Relations between Canada and the U.S. hit a new low over the last two weeks with the imposition of steep new steel and aluminum tariffs.
But Canadian officials suggested Saturday morning in Quebec City that things could have gone a whole lot worse during the president’s in-and-out visit to the G7 Summit, and say they are taking cautious clues that relations might not have soured quite as much as they have seemed to over the past few days.
Trump has taken a highly aggressive stance when it comes to trying to pressure Canada and European states to drop tariffs on agricultural products.
The use of tariffs up to 300 per cent on the Canadian dairy industry, he has said, are “unfair.”
“Take down your tariffs & barriers or we will more than match you!” he tweeted the night prior to departing for the summit.
But despite the threat heading into the talks, Trump and his administration appeared to leave with the impression that the other six world leaders in attendance were similarly seized with his desire to reform international trading systems.
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In a press conference shortly before departing for Singapore, Trump defended his approach to the talks, calling them “not contentious.”
That came after a report by Reuters earlier Saturday morning that Trump had launched into a “bitter” rant over perceived trade inequalities the previous day while meeting with the other leaders.
Trump then pulled his economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, up to the podium with him during a closing press conference Saturday morning.
“As the president said, reduce these barriers: in fact go to zero. Zero non-tariff barriers, zero subsidies,” said Larry Kudlow, Trump’s economic advisor, in a characterization of the talks with G7 leaders.
“Along the way, we’re going to have to clean up the international trading system, about which there was virtual consensus of agreement on that.”
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Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau spoke briefly with reporters at the media centre in Quebec City on Saturday. When asked about the state of talks with Trump, Morneau offered diplomatic words.
“We did have a constructive discussion, both in the broad session and in the private session,” he said. “There’s clearly more work to be done, but it was good.”
Yet when asked about the suggestion other world leaders gathered had agreed with Trump’s view of the trading system, Morneau seemed skeptical.
“Those are your words,” he said to the reporter characterizing Trump’s comments.
“No, those are his words,” the reporter repeated.
“Ok,” Morneau said.
When pressed again, he repeated his earlier comment and did not comment on reports.
“As I said, we had a constructive discussion and there’s more work to be done,” he said.
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Canada and the European Union launched a challenge at the World Trade Organization last week over Trump’s decision to impose steel and aluminum tariffs on widely-condemned “national security” grounds.
In fact, the G7 Summit itself has been characterized in recent days as more of a G6 plus one given the fierce criticism and concerns raised about Trump’s decision to start a trade war with allies.
Despite that, Canadian officials said the leaders told Trump in talks that all international institutions can indeed use some tweaking – though just what those tweaks may be are unlikely to be the same ones the American administration believes need to be changed.
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They also suggested the talks may have led the Americans to consider new ideas when it comes to which targets they want to try and spear in the president’s quest to reform trade systems.
With Trump departed, the remaining six leaders headed into climate talks following a breakfast on gender equality.
The G7 Summit continues until 4 p.m. Saturday, when closing statements are expected.
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