QUEBEC CITY, JUNE 08
When President Ronald Reagan visited Quebec three decades ago, he was so friendly with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney they sang a song together.
Expect no duets when President Donald Trump makes his first presidential visit to Canada on Friday for a summit in a picturesque Quebec town with the leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy democracies. The mood will likely be something less than harmonious.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hasn’t been shy about venting his fury with Trump for imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports — including Canada’s — and for justifying the protectionist move by calling those imports a threat to US national security.
Trudeau has charged that he found the tariffs “insulting” and said such tactics are hardly how two close allies and trading partners that fought side-by-side in World War II, Korea and Afghanistan should treat one another. The Trump administration has also clashed with Canada over his insistence that the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement involving the United States, Canada and Mexico be written to better serve the US
Trump fired back at Trudeau with a couple of tweets on the eve of the summit.
“Prime Minister Trudeau is being so indignant, bringing up the relationship that the US and Canada had over the many years and all sorts of other things,” Trump tweeted, “but he doesn’t bring up the fact that they charge us up to 300% on dairy — hurting our Farmers, killing our Agriculture!”
The prime minister had at first refrained from criticizing Trump, apparently in the hope that he could forge a personal relationship that might help preserve the landmark free trade deal, a forerunner of which Reagan and Mulroney negotiated. Those two leaders became fast friends and famously sang “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” together in Quebec City in 1985.
Trudeau’s courting of Trump appeared to work for a time. The president had initially exempted Canada from the steel and aluminum tariffs in March. But Trudeau became exasperated and took a shot after Trump let the exemption expire last week.
“We’ll continue to make arguments based on logic and common sense,” he said, “and hope that eventually they will prevail against an administration that doesn’t always align itself around those principles.” The prime minister had hoped to visit Washington last week to complete what he thought would be the final stages of the NAFTA renegotiation. But Vice President Mike Pence called and demanded he agree to “sunset clause” that would end NAFTA unless the three countries agreed to extend it every five years.
Trudeau refused, and he canceled the proposed visit. NAFTA talks stalled. Since then, Trump has sounded hostile at times toward Canada.
Nelson Wiseman, a professor at the University of Toronto, said he can’t recall relations between US and Canada being worse. He said the G-7 meeting will appear to be six lined up against one. Indeed, on Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron suggested in a tweet that Trump might not sign the final summit statement on G-7 priorities.
“The American president may not mind being isolated,” Macron tweeted, “but neither do we mind signing a 6-country agreement if need be. Because these 6 countries represent values, they represent an economic market which has the weight of history behind it and which is now a true international force.”
Trump offered his own dig the evening before his departure.
“Please tell Prime Minister Trudeau and President Macron that they are charging the US massive tariffs and create non-monetary barriers. The EU trade surplus with the US is $151 Billion, and Canada keeps our farmers and others out,” he tweeted, adding, “Look forward to seeing them tomorrow.”
There has even been speculation that Trump might walk out of the meetings _ or even decide not to show up. Late Thursday, the White House announced he would be leaving the summit Saturday morning, well before it wraps up.
Under Trump, the United States has abandoned its traditional role in the G-7. American presidents from Reagan to Barack Obama pressed for freer global trade. And they championed a trading system that required countries to follow World Trade Organization rules.
Trump’s policies, by contrast, are unapologetically protectionist and confrontational. To hear the president, poorly conceived trade deals and unfair practices by America’s trading partners have widened America’s trade deficit with the rest of the world — $566 billion last year — and contributed to a loss of millions of factory jobs. Given the conflicts between Washington and its allies, the most likely outcome of the G-7 talks, said William Reinsch, a trade analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies is “polite acrimony.”
The United States has experienced tense relations with its allies before _ over the Vietnam War, for example, over Reagan’s decision to deploy Pershing II missiles in Europe and over President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. But Trump’s moves _ the tariffs and his decisions to pull out of the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal, among other actions _ have taken the hostility to heights. “This is the first time the US government is seen as truly acting in bad faith, in treating allies as a threat, in treating trade as negative and fundamentally undermining the system that it built,” said Adam Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “This US administration feels unbound by previous US commitments in a way that no other administration has ever felt.” “Prime ministers are people, and he’s insulted them,” Reinsch said. “They’re just not going to easily roll over when he punches them in the nose like that.”
QUEBEC CITY, JUNE 08