Even if the US is a piggy bank, it should not be robbed – Donald Trump at G7
In an unscheduled press conference hours before the G7 summit was due to end, Donald Trump accused the rest of the world of treating the US like a piggy bank to be robbed, appeared to snub Theresa May and called for tariff-free trade with the G7 countries.
In a bravado performance, he also described Russia’s annexation of Crimea as “something that happened a while ago”, warned in the bluntest of terms against economic retaliation for the US’s introduction of tariffs, and described the way the EU treated the US as brutal.
Referring to his longstanding complaint about trade and his decision to impose unilateral tariff barriers on metals, he denied the move was contentious, but admitted that he had used strong language to emphasise that the current position could not continue.
“It’s not a question of ‘I hope it will change’”, he said. “It’s going to change, 100%. Tariffs are going to come way down because people cannot continue to do that. We’re like the piggy bank that everybody’s robbing. And that ends.
“If they retaliate, they’re making a mistake because you see we have a tremendous trade imbalance … There’s very bad spirit when we have a big trade imbalance and they keep raising it so we never catch up. That’s not a good thing to do. And we have very, very strong measures that take care of that … the numbers are so astronomically against them … we win that war a thousand times out of a thousand.”
In an omission that underlines the cooling relationship with the UK, he conspicuously failed to namecheck the British prime minister while referencing other G7 leaders as he ran through events of the past two days.
“I’d say the level of relationship is a 10. We have a great relationship. Angela [Merkel], and Emmanuel [Macron] and Justin [Trudeau] … I would say the relationship is a 10.”
May’s officials have been arguing that despite the pre-summit reports of Trump struggling with ther “schoolmistressy” style and her “political correctness”, he always listened to her carefully.
The US president, however, bluntly dismissed her complaint that it was wrong to talk of a trade imbalance as a question of national security. “It is national security, it’s our balance sheet, it’s our strength, it’s absolutely national security,” he said.
“We have to have deals that are fair, and we have to have deals that are economic otherwise that does affect our military … to have a great military you need a great balance sheet.”
With only hours to go before the summit wraps up, the prospect of a final communique agreed by all seven nations now hangs in the balance.
Although there has been disagreement before, this has been the most openly tumultuous G7 meeting in the grouping’s 43-year history. It is feared that failure could ultimately threaten the future of the whole post-second world war system of international rules governing trade.
A British official said on Saturday: “Sherpas had a long night working on possible texts. There is a feeling a chair’s statement is the most likely outcome, but talks are ongoing.”
In what was widely seen as another ostentatious display of contempt for the process of international cooperation, Trump began the day by failing to show up for the start of the Saturday morning working session on gender equality.
The summit president, Justin Trudeau, had finished before he arrived. Canada’s ambassador to France, Isabelle Hudon – the co–chair of the session – was making her contribution when he finally walked in.
The official pool photography session, when the world’s media are allowed in to take the day’s first pictures, was taking place and security personnel had to open a path for the president through a crowd of journalists.
As Hudon continued to talk about the need for gender equality to be included in every policy decision, Trump walked slowly to his seat while the whole room watched.
His entrance is part of a pattern. He has demanded that Russia, suspended since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, be readmitted – a demand he reiterated in his press conference although it clearly undermines May’s initiative due to be signed off later on a rapid response unit to combat actions of hostile states.
Before he had even left Washington, he was deep into a Twitter war with Trudeau over trade.
In an indication of how concerned other G7 members are about the impact of Trump’s decision, and the threat of escalation, on Friday, May and other leaders emphasised the US’s leading role in setting up the international system.
Closing communiques are usually written before the meeting begins. This time it was “hanging in the balance” as leaders flew in to the remote Quebec resort of La Malbaie on Thursday night.
The meeting of leaders of the west’s biggest economies is a regular occurrence. There have been three since Trump took office, although his dislike of international rules and collective action has made each of them knife-edge affairs.
At last year’s G7, in Sicily, the trade row and Trump’s determination to withdraw the US from the Paris climate change agreement – President Obama’s biggest legacy – led to a tense summit and a final agreement that “took note” of US dissent.