G7 leaders unite on trade, vow to fight protectionism

World leaders attend a meeting of the Group of Seven nations leaders at the G7 summit in Taormina, Italy.
World leaders attend a meeting of the Group of Seven nations leaders at the G7 summit in Taormina, Italy.PHOTO: EPA

Trump backs down from America first rhetoric, but refuses to commit to climate deal

TAORMINA (Italy) • Under pressure from allies, President Donald Trump backed a pledge to fight protectionism at the Group of Seven (G-7) summit yesterday, but frustrated US allies with his refusal to commit to a deal aimed at stemming global warming.

The summit pitted him against the leaders of Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Canada and Japan on several issues, with European diplomats frustrated at having to revisit questions they hoped were long settled.

In its final summit statement, the grouping of wealthy nations said free and fair trade was vital to job creation. "Therefore, we reiterate our commitment to keep our markets open and to fight protectionism, while standing firm against all unfair trade practices," it said, while pledging to help those left behind by globalisation, reported Agence France-Presse.

The repetition of a pledge from the Japanese-hosted summit in 2016 to respect the rules-based multilateral trade system embodied in the WTO was a win for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in particular, reported The Guardian.

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Elected on a campaign promise to put "America First", Mr Trump had threatened unilateral tariffs on Mexican and Chinese goods and said he would quit the North American Free Trade Agreement unless it was renegotiated.

Mr Trump had earlier called Germany "very bad" on trade because of its surplus with the US. One European diplomat, who declined to be named, told Reuters: "In the end, we convinced them to include the fight against protectionism in the final communique, so that was a step forward."

Other delegates concurred that it was "six against one" at the gathering of leading democracies spanning North America, Europe and Japan. Delegates worked long into the night to reach a compromise on the closing statement.

The final communique was just six pages long, against 32 pages last year, with diplomats saying the leaders wanted a simpler document to help them reach a wider audience.

The US however broke from the other six nations, saying America is reviewing its climate policies while the G-7 members others remain committed to the Paris Agreement.

A top White House adviser said the US President's views were evolving on the issue, reported Bloomberg, but Mr Trump was not immediately swayed by arguments from Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, France's President Emmanuel Macron and others to honor the Paris Agreement, brokered in 2015 to slash fossil fuel emissions and boost funding to ease impacts of global warming.

After lengthy deliberation, the document did include a separate threat, that was inserted into last year's G-7 statement, to take additional action against Russia, if warranted, for its intervention in Ukraine. Diplomats said that on other key international issues, such as Syria, the South and East China Sea disputes and North Korea, there was broad G-7 agreement.

The US President was due to return to Washington late yesterday at the end of a nine-day tour of the Middle East and Europe.

At the summit's end, Mr Trump gave no closing press conference, presumably to avoid questions on his son-in-law Jared Kushner's reported plans to set up a secret communications channel with Russia, reported The Guardian.

However, he gave a speech to US and Nato troops stationed at the Sigonella air base in Italy, saying he thought he had "hit a home run" everywhere he had been on his first foreign trip since taking office.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 28, 2017, with the headline 'G7 leaders unite on trade, vow to fight protectionism'. Print Edition | Subscribe