Anyone who was expecting yet another cheery, cheesy G7 leaders group photo from the latest summit of the world’s most important industrialized economies was fooling themselves.
The photo of President Donald Trump, arms crossed tightly across his chest while staring down German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and the other heads of state at the Quebec conference was just the tip of the iceberg.
After the meeting broke up and Trump headed for his one-on-one talks with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, he took to Twitter to reiterate the America-first policy that helped him win election in 2016.
“Not fair to the people of America! $800 billion trade deficit. Why should I, as president of the United States, allow countries to continue to make massive trade surpluses, as they have for decades, while our farmers, workers & taxpayers have such a big and unfair price to pay?”
In March, Trump shocked many when he announced he would address the longstanding problem of Chinese steel dumping by imposing new 25 percent tariffs on steel and 10 percent tariffs on aluminum.
Trump’s gambit showed signs of success when, after initially startling trade partners the world over, his administration used the tariffs to bring countries like South Korea to the table to hammer out new, more favorable trade pacts in exchange for exemptions to those tariffs.
The Trump administration similarly had tentative deals to exempt other major trading partners — Canada, Mexico, and Europe — from the tariffs.
This made it look as if only China — the real target of tariffs in the first place — would be left bearing the brunt of them.
All of that fell apart on the eve of last week’s G7 meetings in Quebec, which Trump exited early to head to Singapore for the North Korea talks. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the administration had decided to end the tentative exemption and levy the tariffs on June 1.
China may remain the real target here as the Trump administration has accused the Chinese of moving their steel through third-party nations for reprocessing before dumping it in the United States.
In the meantime, though, Canada, the European Union, and Mexico all are expected to slap retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods, including Kentucky-made bourbon, Wisconsin-produced Harley-Davidsons, and agricultural goods such as blueberries and pork from all across the country. That will surely hurt many of the same regions already suffering from unfair steel trade.
This kind of discord is far removed from the glad-handing and politeness observers are used to seeing at the G7. After all, the west’s heavy economic hitters created the group in 1975 as a means of reaching consensus and building good relations.
The rancor has led some to suggest the group’s six other members shun the United States and go forward — at least unofficially — as a sort of G6. But it seems unlikely that, even with the U.S. isolated by the latest tiff, Canada, Britain, France, Italy, Japan, and Germany could effectively function in a similar alliance that does not include the United States. The success of any policy they pursued would still be contingent on how the United States responded.