LA MALBAIE, Quebec – Bruising for a fight, President Donald Trump barreled into the Group of Seven summit Friday, confronting longtime U.S. allies over a burgeoning trade dispute and insisting Russia should be brought back into the fold.
Trump joined the leaders of major industrialized nations in an idyllic Canadian resort town after days of escalating conflict over new U.S. tariffs he slapped on imports of steel and aluminum. Facing pointed criticism from increasingly disillusioned allies, he punched back, uncowed by the growing global outcry.
“Look, all of these countries have been taking advantage of the United States on trade,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House, repeating his longstanding complaints about trade deficits and tariffs. He declared, “We have to straighten it out.”
However, Trump did seek to lower the temperature after his arrival. He bantered easily with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, joking that the neighboring leader had “agreed to cut all tariffs and all trade barriers.” And he emphasized a “good relationship” with French President Emmanuel Macron, saying they sometimes have a “little test” on trade, but predicting a positive outcome.
Still, the fundamental differences remained clear. Trump again railed against trade deficits with other countries and repeated that he may pursue separate negotiations with Canada and Mexico to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Both sides suggested some progress in NAFTA talks, with White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying they were “close to a deal,” though adding there was also discussion of a bilateral deal. A Canadian official said the leaders discussed accelerating the talks.
Macron said there had been “open and direct” discussions on trade, adding that he thought there was a way to get a “win-win” outcome, though details remained unclear.
Before arriving at the meeting of the group, which some suggest Trump is pushing from the Group of Seven into “G-6 plus one,” he further stirred the pot by asking why Russia was excluded.
“They should let Russia come back in because we should have Russia at the negotiating table,” he said.
Russia was ousted from the elite group in 2014 as punishment for President Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. In the U.S., special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether Trump's campaign colluded with Russia in a bid to sway the 2016 presidential election in his favor.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said the Russia issue “hasn't been raised around the G-7 table,” though she said there have been “some direct conversations in bilateral meetings.” She added “there are no grounds whatsoever for bringing Russia with its current behavior back into the G-7.”
Despite the tension, the president was greeted cordially by Trudeau as he arrived at the annual gathering, held this year at a picturesque Quebec resort. Other members of the Group of Seven are France, Italy, Japan, Germany and Britain. The European Union also attends.
Trump showed up late and will leave early today, heading to Singapore for his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He spent Friday participating in the rituals of the G-7, including the formal greeting by host Trudeau, a group photo in front of the sparkling St. Lawrence River and a working lunch of Arctic char and buckwheat salad.
Over the course of his presidency, Trump has inflamed allies with his isolationist policies, including withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate accord and the international Iran nuclear agreement. Under Trump, the United States has abandoned its traditional role in the G-7 as an advocate for freer global trade, instead pushing more protectionist policies.
Relations have hit such a low point that a key question now is whether the seven countries can agree on a joint statement of priorities at the conclusion of the meeting. Trump said he thinks the group will produce a joint statement.
Before leaving Washington, Trump appeared unenthusiastic about the summit, complaining to aides about having to attend, particularly with his Singapore sit-down with Kim right around the corner. On Friday morning, he appeared in no hurry to leave for Canada, walking out of the White House more than half an hour late and answering questions from reporters for nearly 20 minutes.