When leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized nations meet Friday in Charlevoix, Quebec, alongside the usual awkward group photographs, forced smiles, and lifeless communiques, expect to find something usually missing from such gatherings: candor.
A preview was on offer last Saturday as G7 finance ministers met in Whistler, British Columbia, and in a highly unusual move, specifically cited the United States—the architect of the current global economic order that has been in place since the end of World War II—for the “negative impact of [its] unilateral trade actions.” Steve Mnuchin, the U.S. treasury secretary, came in for so much criticism at the meeting that his Japanese counterpart, Taro Aso, later said he “felt sorry for him.” He added a caveat: “But I guess it’s not the sort of issue I should sympathize with.”
The dispute over trade—specifically over tariffs the U.S. imposed on steel and aluminum imports from Europe and Canada—is symptomatic of the divisions between the U.S. and its allies since Trump’s election. Some of these frustrations were evident during the Obama years, as well, when allies grumbled about the absence of U.S. leadership internationally. Still, there were few doubts then about the administration’s commitment to the U.S.-led global trading system. The frustration of the G7—which besides the U.S., includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the U.K.—runs deeper with the Trump administration. Together, as well as individually, those countries have bristled at Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, his criticism of NATO, his attacks on free trade, and his withdrawal from the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran. But it might be Trump’s challenge—and commitment—to the global trading system that has most angered America’s allies.