The leaders of the world’s richest countries came together Friday to smooth over their differences -- especially with US President Donald Trump -- and to demonstrate they can still work together.
As the first of two days of meetings in La Malbaie, Quebec ended, the Group of Seven leaders limped toward something that could look like a win, even if it comes far short of the broad communique signed by all attendees that typically comes out of their summits.
The low expectations could allow the leaders to cast any consensus as an achievement, especially given that Trump and most of the other G-7 leaders headed into the meeting appearing ready to fight. Trump spent days leading up to the meeting tweeting complaints about the summit’s "indignant" host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and French President Emmanuel Macron, arguing that both leaders refused to budge on their trade positions.
By the time he sat face-to-face with Macron, though, Trump was publicly heralding "progress" on the very issues he’d been grousing about. Instead of fighting big battles with Trump, his counterparts were angling for a baseline of agreement that might be as low as an acknowledgement of the important role of the G-7.
There were also no more references to Trump’s off-the-cuff remark about the need to bring Russian President Vladimir Putin back into the fold of the international community. The G-8 was downgraded back to a G-7 following Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The bid to gloss over the divide might see the reputation of the G-7 salvaged instead of becoming an unprecedented casualty of US tariffs, disagreements over climate change and the future of the Iran deal. But it won’t solve the differences, particularly on trade, with the European Union moving toward retaliatory tariffs from July on key U.S. goods. The tit-for-tat risks a full blown trade war, something economists have said would be bad for all involved.
“For today, I think it’s much more important to convince our American partners to strengthen our format as guarantor of world order, than to look for something new, more challenging, more difficult,” EU President Donald Tusk said Friday.
The G-7 countries are working around the clock to craft a full communique to be signed by their leaders Saturday, a Canadian official said at the end of talks Friday. The official said disagreements remain, particularly with the U.S. on a number of issues, but the goal remains to reach agreement on all the big issues.
The leaders discussed trade in their afternoon group meeting, touching on the World Trade Organization, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the steel and aluminum tariffs that Trump recently imposed on Canada and the EU, the Canadian official said.
A German official said that if Trump declines to sign a communique, it won’t be the end of the G-7, but it would be a worrisome signal.
“In a culture of open discussion, it’s possible that we don’t agree on all points," Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters on Friday. But “it would be more honest to address the different viewpoints and to continue the work of overcoming these differences, rather than pretending that everything is in order."