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G-7 fiasco escalates trade tensions

On the eve of last week's meeting of the leaders of the Group of Seven industrialised countries (G-7) in Quebec, Canada, expectations of even a civil and harmonious exchange of views - let alone any substantive agreement - were slim. But even these modest expectations were dashed. The G-7 meeting turned out to be one of the most, if not the most, acrimonious on record. It was, in a word, a fiasco. G-7 leaders have had open disagreements in the past - for example, on the Iraq war and various issues relating to the Middle East. But never before has the discord reached such heights. Never has one leader launched an ad-hominem attack on another , as US President Donald Trump did on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau immediately after the meeting. Nor has a G-7 communique ever been repudiated by one of its members - as it was, in this meeting, by the United States. And never before has a US President been so isolated, to the extent that the G-7 is now being described as the "G-6 plus one".

While the G-7 is divided on several matters, including the Iran nuclear deal, climate change, relations with Russia and the funding of Nato, the most contentious issue is trade. Six of the G-7 members are the victims of steel and aluminium tariffs imposed by the US, which took effect from June 1. What riles the six, who are longstanding US allies, is not just the tariffs themselves, which they believe are unjustified, but the fact that the rationale for their imposition was national security concerns. All attempts to persuade Mr Trump to rethink his position failed. In fact, the US President raised the ante by threatening more tariffs - this time on automobiles.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2018, with the headline 'G-7 fiasco escalates trade tensions'. Print Edition | Subscribe