G7 rifts swiftly emerge

Top News | REUTERS, BLOOMBERG 26 Aug 2019

US President Donald Trump insisted yesterday he was getting along well with leaders at a G7 summit in France, but rifts emerged with his Western allies on issues ranging from his trade war with China to Iran, North Korea and Russia.

A final communique was unlikely, replaced with a series of documents.

The G7 gathering is taking place against a backdrop of worries about a global economic downturn and coincides with an era of international disunity across an array of matters.

"Before I arrived in France, the Fake and Disgusting News was saying that relations with the six others countries in the G7 are very tense, and that the two days of meetings will be a disaster," Trump tweeted.

"Well, we are having very good meetings, the leaders are getting along very well, and our country, economically, is doing great - the talk of the world!"

Tensions were quickly on show, however, as the first full day of talks between the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States got under way in the Basque coast resort of Biarritz in southwest France.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier voiced concern about creeping protectionism and said those who support tariffs "are at risk of incurring the blame for the downturn in the global economy."

Sitting across from Trump yesterday, he said: "We're in favor of trade peace on the whole, and dialing it down if we can."

Asked if he was being pressed by allies to relent in his standoff with China, Trump said: "I think they respect the trade war."

Underlining the multilateral discord even before the summit got under way, Trump threatened the meeting's host, French President Emmanuel Macron, saying Washington would tax French wine "like they've never seen before" unless Paris dropped a digital tax on US technology companies.

Leaping into the fray, European Council president Donald Tusk, who takes part in the G7 discussions, said the EU would respond "in kind" if Trump acted on his threat. "This may be the last moment to restore our community," Tusk earlier said - a bleak assessment of Western relations.

Looking to broaden the scope of the debate, French President Emmanuel Macron has invited several African leaders to discuss problems facing their continent, while leaders from India, Australia, Chile and Spain were due to attend a dinner where the focus will be on the environment and other issues.

Trump upended last year's G7 meeting in Canada, walking out early and disassociating himself from the final communique.

In Biarritz, Trump appeared to brush aside French efforts to mediate with Iran, saying that while he was happy for Macron to reach out to Tehran to defuse tensions he would carry on with his own initiatives.

Trump also appeared at odds with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over the seriousness of North Korea's series of short-range missile launches.

Trump, who prizes his relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, told reporters the launches did not violate an agreement. Abe, standing beside him, said they breached United Nations resolutions.

There was also disagreement over Trump's calls for Russia to be readmitted to the group of advanced economies. Russia was excluded from what used to be the G8 in 2014 after it annexed Ukraine's Crimea and then backed an anti-Kiev rebellion in Donbas in eastern Ukraine.

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