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Tariffs and Trump: Why the G7 summit in Canada could be awkward

By Jessica MurphyBBC News, Toronto


Image copyrightAFPImage captionHappier times… before the rift over Trump’s tariffs

Leaders of the world’s wealthiest nations are about to descend on a luxury hotel located in a small Canadian tourist town in Quebec. But it’s unclear if there’s more to divide or unite them.

Canada, which holds the G7 presidency this year, will host the leaders of the US, Italy, France, Germany, the UK and Japan in the town of La Malbaie,

Here are four things to know before the two-day summit begins on Friday.

  1. Canada, meet Donald Trump. Donald Trump, meet Canada

Since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, new American presidents have had an unofficial tradition – making Canada the destination for their first foreign trip.

George W Bush broke with tradition when he took a day trip to Mexico, but it wasn’t long before he travelled north for the 2001 Summit of the Americas in Quebec City.

Donald Trump waited longer – some 500 days into his presidency.

This Charlevoix Summit will be the first time he pays a visit to his northern neighbour as American leader.

The US president is unlikely to get the rock star welcome received by his predecessor, Barack Obama, who was greeted in 2009 by people gathered on Parliament Hill in Ottawa to catch a glimpse of the politician.

Mr Trump isn’t as popular as Mr Obama was among Canadians, and he is currently sparring with his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau over US tariffs on steel and aluminium imports.

2. Expect awkward conversations

On Saturday, G7 finance officials issued a rebuke over the “negative impact” of the US metals tariffs and urged “decisive action” on the matter when world leaders meet in La Malbaie.

Image captionLa Malbaie

It won’t be the first time Mr Trump’s stances on trade and other policy matters have caused friction among his world leader colleagues.

In fact, it could be more G6 + 1 than G7.

During the Italy summit in 2017, the US leader was left isolated over Paris climate change deal.

He was the lone man out when the other leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris accord, the world’s first comprehensive deal aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions.

“We have a situation of six against one,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the time.

Mr Trump later announced his intention to withdraw the US from the Paris deal.

Image copyrightAFP/GETTY IMAGESImage captionQuebec City is preparing for journalists, delegates and protesters to descend in the town for the G7

This time around, Mr Trump will undoubtedly be held to task over the recent metals tariffs slapped on Canada, Mexico and the European Union (EU).

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk will also both be attending the summit.

Canada is also in the midst of intense North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations with the US and Mexico.

A Canadian official who briefed journalists prior to the summit said it’s fair to say that any economic talks “will quickly go to a discussion on trade”.

“There will be a discussion and the president will be participating,” he said.

3. The ‘lonely hearts club’

John Kirton, director of G7 Research Group, says that inevitably, the leaders will find more that unites them than divide them.

He says the gathering is a uniquely intimate summit where some of the world’s most powerful political leaders can gather “face-to-face around a fireside, a dining room table”.

Image captionLa Malbaie

“The summit is the perfect place for leaders to freewheel, to say what they want, to be politically incorrect, to complain about their own domestic media.

“It’s a lonely hearts club, a kind of group therapy.”

He adds it won’t be the first time the consensus-based group finds itself divided since it came into being following the OPEC oil crisis in 1973.

The Canadian official said the meeting’s format allows for world leaders to have “a frank and full exchange”.

Image copyrightGETTY IMAGESImage captionNations are expected to announce commitments to reducing plastic waste in the world’s oceans

But as host, Canada is “working to bridge the differences that exists”.

There are fives themes for this year’s summit, which are:

  • Inclusive economic growth
  • Gender equality and women’s empowerment
  • World peace and security
  • Jobs of the future
  • Climate change and oceans

Colin Robertson, with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute summed it up in recent report on the coming Summit as “gender, work, climate, energy, our oceans, protectionism, populism and extremism”.

Foreign policy issues expected to be discussed include the planned meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, tensions with Russia, China’s global influence, and the crisis in Venezuela.

Mr Kirton says he expects three main “deliverables” to come out of the Charlevoix Summit.

They include taking action to prevent foreign interference in democratic elections, an issue that falls directly into the central responsibility of the G7 for defending and spreading democratic governance.

Image copyrightREUTERSImage captionBritish PM Theresa May is expected to discuss US tariffs with President Donald Trump

It also comes at a time when the member nations have seen the public lose trust in government institutions.

coalition of 30 non-governmental groups are also hoping the countries, whose economies represent 45% of global GDP, will raise $1.3bn (£970m) for educating girls in developing countries.

“Summits are often a great global fundraiser,” says Mr Kirton.

Finally, the countries are expected to make commitments on removing plastics from the oceans – an environmental issue that has grown in prominence in recent months – and on making coastal communities more resilient.