TOKYO — As preparations for this year’s Group of Seven summit continue, the world’s leading industrial nations are straining to maintain solidarity over key values they previously championed. The summit will be held May 26 – 27 in Italy.
The elite group has been rocked by U.S. President Donald Trump’s protectionist trade policy agenda, which runs counter to the traditional G-7 narrative concerning free trade versus the evils of protectionism.
While the G-7 tries to form a consensus by focusing on specific issues, such as redressing unfair trade practices, signs of discord are emerging.
In their declaration issued after the 2016 G-7 in Japan, the group’s leaders reaffirmed their “commitment… to fight all forms of protectionism.” Since then, however, U.S. trade policy has significantly changed under Trump, who was elected on an “America First” agenda.
During preparatory talks among senior G-7 officials prior to this year’s summit, the U.S. balked at this expression in the joint statement.
Because of Washington’s opposition, references to anti-protectionism were not included in the joint statement at the Group of 20 meeting of finance ministers and central bankers in March.
A senior official at Japan’s Foreign Ministry defends Trump’s trade policy, emphasizing that U.S. markets are still more open than most others.
But failing to reaffirm their commitment to this principle in the summit document will seriously undermine the group’s relevance.
Smoothing over differences
Italy is trying to forge agreements on certain issues while de-emphasizing the discord over protectionism.
One topic sure to be addressed is the need to eliminate policies that distort markets, such as state subsidies to industries. This is a thinly veiled reference to China’s promoting of certain exports such as steel, which is being dumped on world markets at unfairly low prices.
G-7 leaders will also pledge to stimulate economic growth while addressing growing economic disparities, which some see as the driving force behind Brexit and Trump’s winning the U.S. presidency.
Also expected is a vow to share intelligence to fight cyberattacks like the one that struck the world in mid-May.
Global warming, however, is another area of dispute. During his presidential campaign, Trump promised to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
His administration is reportedly divided over the issue. While a faction led by Scott Pruitt, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is supporting Trump’s vow to exit the pact, a pro-Paris camp led by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is lobbying for staying put.
Washington blocked a joint statement at the G-7 meeting of energy ministers in April, saying it was reviewing U.S. policies on climate change and energy.
The situation has not changed much since then. Trump’s G-7 peers will try to persuade him to keep the U.S. in the Paris accord, but Trump is unlikely to heed their call.