LA MALBAIE, Quebec (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and Group of Seven leaders had a bitter exchange over trade tariffs, ratcheting tensions at a summit that he planned to leave early on Saturday before talks on climate change and the health of oceans.
The six-plus-one tone of the gathering in Quebec means the leaders from Canada, Britain, the United States, France, Germany Italy and Japan are unlikely to issue a joint statement, too sharply divided on trade or the environment to reach consensus.
In an “extraordinary” exchange between the leaders on Friday, Trump repeated a list of grievances about U.S. trade, mainly with the European Union and Canada, a French presidency official told reporters.
“And so began a long litany of recriminations, somewhat bitter reports that the United States was treated unfairly, that the trading system was totally unfavorable to the United States, the American economy, American workers, the middle class,” the official said.
“In short, a long, frank rant which is undoubtedly very unusual in this kind of formats,” the official added.
French President Emmanuel Macron responded in a “courteous but very firm tone” to present the European side of the story, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe chimed in as well, the official said.
On Saturday, Trump arrived late for the first working session on gender equality but Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau forged ahead with opening remarks without him, commenting wryly about “stragglers”.
Trump planned to leave the summit on Saturday before it discussed climate change and the health of oceans, underlining fractures in the G7 exacerbated by U.S. trade tariffs.
Still, the United States and European Union will establish a dialogue on trade within the next two weeks, signaling a modest step forward for the bitterly divided allies of the G7.
The two-day summit in Canada has been marred by a tit-for-tat exchanges of hostile tweets, with U.S. trading partners furious over Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, the European Union and Mexico as part of his “America First” agenda. Some countries have retaliated with their own levies on U.S. imports.
While Trump set a combative tone before even arriving at the summit with tweets about unfair trade deals, he appeared affable and joking at multiple brief photo opportunities and praised Macron for helping to work out trade issues.
“Something’s going to happen. I think it will be very positive,” Trump said on Friday, without giving details.
The leaders worked late into the night on Friday at the luxurious and tightly secured riverside hotel where the summit is being held, with the White House tweeting a photo showing the leaders huddled around a coffee table at 11:20 p.m. ET, looking at what appeared to be a draft document marked up with highlighter. German Chancellor Angela Merkel sat between Macron and Trump on a sofa, while Trudeau sat to the left of the U.S. president.
Trump plans to leave the summit mid-morning on Saturday, four hours earlier than originally planned, to fly to Singapore to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
That means he will miss a working session among the leaders on climate change and clean energy, as well as talks among the G7 and poorer countries focused on the health of oceans.
The early exit also means he will be gone before allies begin closing news conferences likely to be laden with criticism of the U.S. stance on trade and Trump’s abrupt suggestion on Friday that Russia be re-admitted to the elite grouping.
Russia was suspended from the group in 2014 because of its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Merkel said EU countries at the summit agreed that the conditions to readmit Russia had not been met and even Moscow seemed to reject the suggestion.
Trump’s presidency has been clouded by a federal investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, and possible collusion by his campaign. Both Moscow and Trump have denied the allegations.
Additional reporting by Jean-Baptiste Vey, David Ljunggren, Giselda Vagnoni, Jan Strupczewski and William James; Writing by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Stephen Powell and Susan Thomas