With member-states haggling over tit-for-tat protectionist measures against each other, Russia’s absence from the economic talk shop has never been more conspicuous.
The dramatic fallout between the US and its allies at the 44th annual G7 summit, held in La Malbaie, Quebec last week, has beaten even the most pessimistic predictions. But the writing was certainly on the wall for anybody willing to look.
Firm in his commitment to ‘make America again,’ US President Donald Trump – having just a few days earlier slapped heavy tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from the EU, Canada and Mexico, while demanding that Russia be returned to the club – was certainly not the guest of honor. Yet the abrasive US leader seemed to relish in his notoriety, even showing up late for a breakfast among the heads of state from Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, the UK and the US.
This was followed by viral images of Trump and French leader Immanuel Macron, possibly piqued at being forced to eat his croissant cold, engaged in what has become a stress test of sorts for world leaders: surviving a full round of a Donald Trump handshake.
The media was quick to declare Macron the winner of the duel, with pundits expending endless amounts of valuable oxygen discussing the possible implications of the white imprint left behind on Trump’s famous hand.
Even before the summit had begun, however, it was clear the bromance between Macron and Trump was in jeopardy, with the French leader floating the idea of a future G6.
“Maybe the American president doesn’t care about being isolated today, but we don’t mind being six, if needs be,” the French leader said, speaking on behalf of the EU members who were bristled by the US tariffs, and calls for Russia’s participation. “Because these six represent values, represent an economic market, and more than anything, represent a real force at the international level today.”
The real fireworks, however, began just after Trump departed from Canada to Singapore, where he is scheduled to have a much-anticipated meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Justin Trudeau, serving as host of the G7, appears to have given the American leader a kick out of the proverbial door, saying that Canada “will not be pushed around" by the US and called Trump's tariffs "unjust." All things considered, the timing of the comment, coming just hours after Trump and Trudeau exchanged handshakes and promising words, was ill-advised.
After all, although Donald Trump may be faulted for ‘snubbing’ G7 talk shops dedicated to ‘gender equality’ and climate change, on the question of economic equality among trading partners he seems to have a valid argument. Consider America’s trade agreements with Germany, Europe’s biggest economy and the world's largest exporter of vehicles. The United States ranks as the biggest importer of vehicles. And here’s the rub: the US levies only 2.5 percent on imported cars, whereas the Europeans demand 10 percent on US-made cars.
Now pile on top of that Trump’s regular criticism that the US is footing the EU’s NATO bill, and it may come as no surprise that Washington’s response to Trudeau’s remark came fast and furious.
Peter Navarro, White House Director of Trade Policy, shot back: "There's a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump," while describing Trudeau’s remark as “one of the worst political miscalculations of a Canadian leader in modern Canadian history."
Trump fired up his Twitter, reminding Trudeau that the US was forced to impose tariffs on its allies due to an $800 bln trade imbalance, while Canada, for example, has levied a 270 percent tariff hike on US dairy products.
Finally, and possibly most embarrassing for Justin Trudeau, Trump refused to endorse the summit communiqué, a non-binding statement that encourages a series of actions on part of the members.
And judging by some of the recommendations contained in the document, it is a good thing it flopped.
While sounding off on predictable benchmarks, like “working together to stimulate sustainable economic growth that benefits everyone,” and “raising living standards,” the communiqué ventured into areas that seem beyond its charter, and particularly with regards to Russia.
In point 17, the G7 communiqué unloads every conspiracy theory that has been leveled against Russia ever since Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 race for the Oval Office.
“We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing behavior, to undermine democratic systems and its support of the Syrian regime,” the statement reads. “We condemn the attack using a military grade nerve agent in Salisbury, United Kingdom. We share and agree with the United Kingdom’s assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation was responsible for the attack, and that there is no plausible alternative explanation…We reiterate our condemnation of the illegal annexation of Crimea…”
Considering that all of those above allegations have already been thoroughly debunked, it is deeply disturbing that they would be repeated once again by such an organization. But there appears to be some anarchy in the ranks.
Newly sworn-in Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was one of the G7 members to side with Trump’s recommendation that Russia be reinstituted in the economic club. “I agree with US President Donald Trump: Russia should be back in the G8. It is in everyone's interest,” he wrote on Twitter.
Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, chided the G7 for “creative babbling” and casting judgment on Russia when “nothing concrete” in terms of evidence has ever been provided to support the allegations.
He then patiently explained that Russia “never left” the G7, and would be delighted “to see everyone in Moscow.”
However, that may have been simply polite, diplomatic language from the Russian leader, who had just participated in his own summit, this one involving the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
Citing data from the IMF, Putin said the eight-member SCO has already overtaken the G7 in terms of purchasing-power parity.
“If we calculate… per capita, the seven countries are wealthier, but the size of the SCO economies [combined] is larger. And the population is of course much bigger – half of the planet,” Putin told reporters on the weekend.
The fact should not be lost on the EU members that Russia has many other options available to itself if the G7 continues to shoot itself in the foot by banishing one of its largest and most reliable trading partners.