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Beyond Brussels: Tweetfest darkens prospects of meaningful G7 summit

The first day of this weekend’s Group of Seven summit is set to turn into the Group of Six vs One, if recent Twitter exchanges are anything to go by. The one, in this case, as US President Donald Trump, who has already announced that he’ll skip tomorrow’s sessions on climate change and the environment.


He may not want to go at all, if his acrimonious Twitter battles with French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are any indication of his thinking. Indeed, some media reported that Trump had considered taking a pass on the two-day meeting in Charlevoix, the riverside region in Quebec, but that he is now raring for a fight to defend US trade policies that governments across the globe contend are protectionist.


The annual G7 summit has historically been a venue for the world’s top industrialised nations – the seven members make up almost half of the world economy and represent more than 60% of net global wealth – to exchange ideas on a range of issues including the international economy and security. This year, the unofficial agenda item is the US decision to slap tariffs on steel and aluminium from other G7 countries.


The battle lines have already been drawn, with Macron tweeting yesterday that the “the American president may not mind being isolated” but that other G7 members – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the UK – would not “mind signing a six-country agreement if need be”.


Both Macron and Trudeau say divisive US duties on steel and aluminium will backfire and damage the American economy and workforce. “American jobs are on the line because of [Trump’s] actions and because of his administration,” Trudeau said at a joint news conference with his French counterpart. The two leaders vowed to push back against the US president’s “American First” policies.


Later yesterday, Trump tweeted that Trudeau was “so indignant” and asked why the EU and Canada had failed to tell their citizens that “for years they have used massive trade tariffs and nonmonetary trade barriers against the US. Totally unfair to our farmers, workers and companies”. He warned the EU and Canada to “take down your tariffs and barriers or we will more than match you!”


The heated words are sure to spill over to the G7 summit, which has a rather vague agenda that includes issue such as investment, jobs, women’s empowerment and climate change.


Trudeau called the agenda “progressive” and said in a statement on Canada’s G7 presidency website that “the themes we have chosen for this year will help focus our discussions on finding real, concrete solutions to promote gender “equality, women’s empowerment, clean energy and economic growth that works for everyone.”


“As G7 partners, we share a responsibility to ensure that all citizens benefit from our global economy, and that we leave a healthier, more peaceful and more secure world for our children and grandchildren,” Trudeau added.


Will summit end without a communique?


G7 meetings typically end with a nonbinding joint written communique that lists issues about which they are able to agree. At last year’s gathering in the old Sicilian coastal town  of Taormina, Italy, leaders issued a statement of common goals on several foreign policy issues, including Syria, Libya, North Korea and ISIS. They also endorsed “the importance of the rules-based international trading system” and gender equality.


But that almost didn’t happen. The US, which prefers no communique at all or just a short statement by leaders highlighting some of the commitments, almost scuttled the 2017 communique, but agreed at the last minute to accept it.


“I don’t know what to expect” from the summit in Canada, said international trade lawyer Alejandro Jara, a former deputy director general at the World Trade Organization. “But it is to be hoped that leaders instruct their ministers – along with other key countries such as China and Brazil – to draw up a list of the issues and problems that each one perceives needs to be addressed and solved. This could at least lead to a shared diagnosis and pave the way to a process of negotiations to find the appropriate solutions.”


Another good outcome would be for leaders to “list the options to liberalise trade in such a way that in, say, 10 years the field will be substantially levelled”, Jara told Borderlex.


One summit outcome is almost guaranteed. During and after the gathering, Twitter will no doubt spill over with more finger-pointing tweets and accusations.


With Trump making it crystal clear that he intends to continue pursuing an aggressive trade agenda – even if it means the US is isolated – he’s headed for a frosty reception in Canada later today that will give him a firsthand taste of just what isolation means.

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