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Donald Trump Shifts the West’s Focus to Protectionism

It was supposed to be the summit where gender became a permanent issue on world leaders’ agenda, the way that climate change did at the 1988 Toronto G7. That was the personal goal of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as the World Bank [1] reported that 130 million girls worldwide never get the opportunity to go to school. And while gender did get both attention and money at last week’s G7 meeting in Charlevoix, Quebec, it was mostly obscured by Donald Trump and growing concerns about a global trade war.

The G7 met amidst what the IMF assesses to be continuing strong economic performance in the Euro area and in Japan, China, the United States, and Canada, all of which grew beyond expectations last year. Still, there are plenty of challenges. G7 countries face aging populations, falling rates of labor force participation [2], and low productivity growth [3]. They’re unlikely to regain the per capita growth rates that they enjoyed before the global financial crisis of 2008. All of that underscores the importance of the G7 as an institution. Now in its 44th year, the organization—consisting of America, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom—functions as a management board for the big liberal democracies.

Finance ministers before the summit were already expressing “concerns…that the tariffs imposed by the United States on its friends and allies, on the grounds of national security, undermine open trade and confidence in the global economy” and warning that G7 “collaboration and cooperation has been put at risk by trade actions against other members.”

That was in anticipation of Donald Trump, who managed to deliver on expectations. Arriving late and leaving early, he effectively set the real agenda of the Charlevoix summit through a series of tweets [4], pre-and post-summit, about “unfair Trade Deals with the G-7 countries.”


That led Trudeau to remark at the conclusion of the G7 that “Canadians [5] did not take it lightly that the United States has moved forward with significant tariffs on our steel and aluminum industry…. For Canadians who…stood shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers in far-off lands and conflicts from the First World War onward…it’s kind of insulting.” Canada, Trudeau said, would “move forward with retaliatory measures on July 1, applying equivalent tariffs to the ones that Americans have unjustly applied to us.” He also observed that “if the expectation was that a weekend in beautiful Charlevoix…was going to transform the president’s outlook on trade and the world, then we didn’t quite reach that bar.”

All of this annoyed Trump who had left to fly to his Singapore session with Kim Jong-un. In a fit of pique, he characterized Trudeau on Twitter as “meek and mild…dishonest & weak [6]” and rescinded America’s signature to the traditional communique that ends the conference.

Senior advisors Larry Kudlow and Peter Navarro then doubled down on the president’s remarks. Kudlow told CNN that Trudeau “really kind of stabbed us in the back [7],” while Navarro, who later sort of apologized [8], told “Fox News Sunday” [9] that “there’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump.”

For Canadians, President Trump’s “blame Canada” campaign is curious.

According to the president’s annual Economic Report [10] from 2018, the United States enjoys an $8.4 billion surplus [11] with Canada. Canadians buy more American agricultural exports ($24 billion [11]) than any other nation. Our steel trade—we are each others’ biggest customers—is in virtual balance ($7 billion [12] both ways). Canada supports its dairy farmers through supply management that restricts the milk supply but neither gives direct subsidies nor competes with the United States. In fact, Canada is one the few countries where America runs a substantial manufacturing surplus, with the U.S. importing energy—less than the global benchmark price—and other Canadian resources.

Trump also created G7 controversy with his comment that Russia, booted out of the group after its invasion of Ukraine in 2014, should be reinstated: “They should let Russia come back [13] in,” he said, “because we should have Russia at the negotiating table.”

European Union Council President Donald Tusk spoke for the other leaders when he rejected the readmission of Russia because it would upset the “rules-based international order [14].” British Prime Minister Theresa May underlined the “unified [14]” G7 response, pointing to the new “rapid response unit” that will counter hostile activity by states such as Russia that are aimed at the democratic process.

But it was Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland who issued the most concise and clarion call for the United States not to abandon the rules-based international order for a “might makes right” approach. Accepting the Foreign Policy Forum’s “Diplomat of the Year” award, she said: “You may feel today that your size allows you to go mano-a-mano with your traditional adversaries and be guaranteed to win. But if history tells us one thing, it is that no one nation’s pre-eminence is eternal…the far wiser path—and the more enduring one—is to strengthen our existing alliance of liberal democracies.” As the West’s relative might inevitably declines, Freeland said that “now is the time for us to plant our flag on the rule of law—so that the rising powers are induced to play by these rules, too.”

The G7 is admittedly Eurocentric. It probably needs to be enlarged to include other democracies—India, Indonesia, Korea, Australia, and Mexico would be obvious candidates and their inclusion would give more weight to the Indo-Pacific. But for over 40 years, its summits have been a rare forum for frank discussions and informal diplomacy. Its members sustain the rules-based system and its multilateral institutions.

As the top table of the leading democracies, the G7 visibly demonstrates that talk on the big issues—protectionism, populism, extremism, climate, and gender—continues to be essential. Winston Churchill popularized the word “summitry.” He also reflected that “jaw-jaw” among leaders is better than “war-war.” Churchill had learned well what happens when major world powers don’t sit down with each other and engage in dialogue.

Summits usually culminate in a consensus communique. Weeks in preparation—it probably has more drafters than readers—it is part record of decisions and part declaration of intent.

The Charlevoix communique [15], one of the more concise at slightly over 4,000 words, still covered the urgent and the important: artificial intelligence, global trade, middle-class growth, innovation, girls’ education, and defending democracies from foreign intrusions. But it was impossible to miss that the leaders also underlined the “crucial role of a rules-based international trading system [16]” and their pledge to “continue to fight protectionism.” That this was a rare shot at a fellow G7 member should need no explaining.

Colin Robertson is a former Canadian diplomat and vice president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

22 Comments (Open | Close)

22 Comments To "Donald Trump Shifts the West’s Focus to Protectionism"

#1 Comment By Kurt Gayle On June 22, 2018 @ 12:07 am

Colin Robertson, who is identified as “a former Canadian diplomat,” complains that President Trump “effectively set the real agenda of the Charlevoix [G-7] summit through a series of tweets, pre-and post-summit, about ‘unfair Trade Deals with the G-7 countries’.”

That’s exactly what Mr. Trump did — and rightly so. One of the unfairest of the unfair US trade deals with G-7 countries is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that went into effect during the Clinton presidency. NAFTA has resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of American manufacturing plants and the loss of millions of US manufacturing jobs—as well as other damage to the US economy.

President Trump has said that the unfairness of NAFTA to the US will no longer be tolerated. Mr. Trump and he and team are currently renegotiating NAFTA with Canada and Mexico — and Mr.Robertson doesn’t like that.

What is Colin Robertson’s special interest in NAFTA? During the original Canada-US Free Trade Agreement negotiations Mr. Robertson worked for Canada in the Trade Negotiations Office and he was later a Canadian member the NAFTA Implementation Team.

Canadian Colin Robertson has every right to express his opinions about NAFTA, but he needs to be more transparent about his role in bringing about the original NAFTA – as well as his current role of propagandizing on behalf of the Canadian NAFTA negotiating team. (TAC could also do a better job of identifying for its readers who Mr. Robertson really is.)

#2 Comment By Tiktaalik On June 22, 2018 @ 2:12 am

I think that the author should drop in several more ‘rule-based order’s. Just to strengthen his case.

By the way, do Serbia/Afghanistan/Iraq/Libya fit into this narrative?

#3 Comment By Youknowho On June 22, 2018 @ 9:28 am

Well, now Trump got his wish. We are in a trade war.

There can be a justification for tariffs, but they have to be applied wisely. Know what to protect and what can be left alone. Since steel and aluminum are basically raw material for industries, it is foolish to make them more expensive, for example.

Tariffs put blindly for the sake of tariffs do more harm than good.

Also he got into a tariff war with people who DO think about those things. The Mexicans knew how to bring the US to agree by targeting their tariffs so as to hurt people in districs of influential congressmen and Senators who had to field a lot of phone calls. The Europeans and Canadians learned from them. Why do you think that the EU put tariffs of bourbon, made in Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky, or Harley Davidson, made in Paul Ryan’s district. Or similar tariffs desinged to hurt districts carried by Trump.

They know how to play the game. Trump doesn’t

#4 Comment By Stephen J. On June 22, 2018 @ 10:10 am

The article states:
“Last week’s G7 summit was eclipsed by the president—and that isn’t necessarily a good thing”

I believe the “G7” is a subsidiary of the New World Order. Read more at link below.

June 12, 2018
The Bloody Hypocrisy Regarding the G7 Meeting

After and before the G7 meeting ended, the establishment were going bananas. Like monkeys seeking fruit, the political leaders of various countries, along with their media and establishment allies, started heaping blame on Donald Trump for their fruitless meeting. Their screams, squeals, and bedlam of noise emanated around the world. It seemed Donald Trump had upset the “international order” and “the system.”

“‘The rules-based international order is being challenged, not by the usual suspects, but by its main architect and guarantor: the United States,’ European Council President Donald Tusk said.” June 8, 2018 4:03 am

“Sebastian Mallaby, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, described the relationships between the U.S. and the rest of the G-7 as at a ‘new level of crisis,’ saying that it was not just about trade but ‘a general U.S. attitude toward the system.’” June 8, 2018 4:03 am

The system and the international order that the globalists and their political puppets and the establishment elites like to talk about, is, I believe responsible for heinous crimes against humanity. Millions of people are dead, millions are refugees, their cities and homes destroyed, and those who supported all this hellish evil, are enjoying their freedom. Some are retired, others are still in power. None of them have been held responsible for their actions and war crimes. [1]…

Meanwhile, this Gang of 7 hypocrites issued a communiqué at the end of their taxpayer funded meeting, in Canada, that said:

“We share a responsibility to build a more peaceful and secure world, recognizing that respect for human rights, the rule of law and equality of opportunity are necessary for lasting security and to enable economic growth that works for everyone.”

This communiqué by “pretend humanitarians” is designed, I believe, to hide their crimes against humanity, and are re-inventing themselves as a “caring, sharing” G7 community. If there was an award for B.S. they would win it. And if their hypocrisy was not so sad and diabolical, it would be laughable. This is most of the same gang that comes from countries that participated in illegal wars, and funded and trained terrorists, and slaughtered women and children, and sells arms to dictators and despots. I believe they should be arrested, instead of being protected by taxpayers’ dollars. [2]…

[read more at link below]

#5 Comment By Michael Kenny On June 22, 2018 @ 10:19 am

All this is just an example of Trump’s standard (in fact, only) negotiating tactic. He threatens something dire or, at least, something he thinks his opponent will regard as dire. When his opponent seeks talks, as is the established practice in international affairs, Trump interprets that as capitulation and makes a “sweet” offer so as to lure his opponent further into his trap, or so he thinks. Then he suddenly backs out of the whole deal, citing some flimsy pretext, and ups the ante. He then repeats that process as often as he has to until he has completely crushed his opponent. That may well be suited to the rough manners of the NYC building industry but it doesn’t work in international relations, where leaders do not want to appear before their own people as having sold out their countries’ sovereignty or interests. Trump’s problem, therefore, is that he has no Plan B. If countries don’t capitulate, he has nothing left but to carry out his dire threat. If a first round of sanctions doesn’t cause his opponent to capitulate, all he can do is slap on another round of sanctions. Or capitulate himself!
As far as the EU is concerned, and notwithstanding what they may say publicly, EU leaders are probably delighted at the turn of events. Globalised free trade has never been popular in the EU. The whole concept of the European integration is Fortress Europe, a sort of “Great Switzerland”, with a large internal market protected by a high external tariff wall. The more Trump torpedoes globalized free trade, the more he undermines the very US global hegemony which enabled the US to impose globalized free trade in the first place. Heads, the EU wins, tails, the US loses!

#6 Comment By Johann On June 22, 2018 @ 10:36 am

At the end of WWII, Europe needed US economic and military support to survive. NATO was needed to counteract the Warsaw Pact. But no more. Europe can defend themselves.

At the G7, Trump proposed that everyone drop all of their tariffs. He was met with hostile stares and no takers except for Germany. That proposal should indicate to the others that the goal of the US is to have true free trade. A true free trade agreement would be “you drop your tariffs and industry subsidies and we’ll drop ours”, not thousands of pages of gobblty-gook that favors this and that corporation. I think when it comes to the G7, dropping all tariff is a reasonable thing. But its not likely to work for the entire world, and so the only option for many other countries would be reciprocal trade agreements, which are basically tit for tat country specific tariffs.

Bottom line. It is true that the US has been the guppy when it comes to the trade agreements, and has been a big factor in the decline of our middle class and income inequity. We’ve become more third-worldish over the last few decades.

#7 Comment By Don Walker On June 22, 2018 @ 11:07 am

Robertson’s pro-“free trade” screed joins Larrison’s to reveal what TAC is all about.

#8 Comment By Stephen J. On June 22, 2018 @ 11:08 am

More on the “G7” feasting on taxpayers dollars at links below.
June 10, 2018
The Gang of 7 (G7) Visits Canada: The Cost is “$600-million” to Canadian Taxpayers

There will be “guests” attending the big G7 meeting…. ( feeding off our tax dollars)
“The heads of the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the World Bank are also on the guest list.”

The people not on “the guest list,” and not invited, are the taxpayers of Canada, that are paying for this gathering of the “greats,” of the political and establishment class. But hey, no doubt it will “create jobs” (A favourite political slogan.) After all, these “dignitaries” have to be accommodated, and wined, and dined, and the security industry will be out in “force.” (No pun intended.) In fact it shows how much these politicians and other “guests” are loved when they need massive amounts of protection, wherever they park their posteriors.
Taxpayers are footing the enormous bill for Trudeau’s, G7 extravaganza. [1] Canada’s sycophantic media are not asking any hard questions on how “$600-million” of Canadian taxpayers’ money is being spent? Where is all this money going?…
[read more at links below



#9 Comment By LouisM On June 22, 2018 @ 11:14 am

I don’t care whether protectionism works or doesn’t work to be honest. The important thing is that the whole dynamic and foundation of the conversation has changed to discuss and include protectionism.

Trump’s Trade tariffs, import taxes, trade wars, protectionism may fail…but I don’t think it will be discredited. I think you will find many future republicans asking whether this is fair trade…and calling our attention to trade deficits…and promising action.

People voted for republicans because they believed in small govt, low taxes, low debt and strong defense.

Now that will stay true even though republicans have also traditionally failed miserably on small govt, low debt and low taxes (except for Reagan’s and Trump’s tax cuts)…and strong defense (our nation should have built up our armed forces rather than fritting away trillions in proxy Mideast wars).

Still despite republican failures…they were still better than liberal democrats on these issues.

Now Trump has added immigration and trade deficits to the traditional republican platform. The dirty secret that they liberal democrats hide is that immigration hurts minorities the most and now minorities are also voting to restrict immigration. The other dirty secret that the liberal democrats will hide is that globalism and trading jobs for hegemony has eviscerated our manufacturing and our small towns and our nations interior.

With new technology like 3D printing, the possibility for a lot of those jobs to come back to the US is finally at hand.

Is Donald Trump right or wrong on Trade and Protectionism? It doesn’t matter unless he pushes us into a depression. It doesn’t matter because Trump is an evangelizer reshuffling the board, shaking up the status quo and getting people to re-examine the facts of their environment (an environment which contributes to their personal and local success or their personal and local failure). It doesn’t matter whether Trump is right or wrong, succeeds or fails because Trump’s narrative on trade deficits…that its not fair trade if its unbalanced trade….will remain long after Trump. Its very likely Trump’s successor will further Trumps platforms on immigration and trade.

#10 Comment By hetro On June 22, 2018 @ 11:38 am

Gratuitous, biased comments such as this in the article should be noted as part of this author’s bias.

“British Prime Minister Theresa May underlined the “unified” G7 response, pointing to the new “rapid response unit” that will counter hostile activity by states such as Russia that are aimed at the democratic process.”

This idiotic robot checking system should be abandoned. That’s it for me. Best wishes to commenters.

#11 Comment By TheSnark On June 22, 2018 @ 11:52 am

All Hail Trump! He is protecting us against that insidious threat, ignored by the last 20 or 30 presidents: CANADA! If we don’t watch out, we will soon be forced to buy wool hats and parkas. They already have plans to invade our northern States with liberal wolves and progressive polar bears.

Without Trump, we would be defenseless! All Hail our Great Leader for saving us!

#12 Comment By Roy Fassel On June 22, 2018 @ 12:24 pm

Trump is relishing the pending trade war to satisfy his base’s demands of protecting jobs. The St. Louis Federal Reserve recently stated that 85% of manufacturing jobs were lost totally to improved efficiency in America and only 15% of those job losses were due to foreign competition. In the end, Trump’s trade will mostly hurt his base…..of farmers and rural people who will be hurt by these tariff trade threats. The agricultural sector could/will take a huge hit if Trump follows through. That will devastate all of rural America. Insanity is the order of the day.

#13 Comment By One Guy On June 22, 2018 @ 1:33 pm

“At the G7, Trump proposed that everyone drop all of their tariffs.”

And we KNOW that Trump always follows through, right? That’s why there’s a big, beautiful wall that Mexico has paid for, right? That’s why there’s a DACA deal he said he’d sign. That’s why he is investigating Hillary. Or is she already locked up?

No, the G-7 folks are only paying attention to Trump’s actions, not his lies. Who can blame them for not believing a word he says?

#14 Comment By Cratylus On June 22, 2018 @ 2:28 pm

What Trump did was to put economic considerations ahead of concern for keeping our “allies” in NATO happy. He put economic nationalism ahead of preserving the NATO alliance which has proved so destructive as it joins the US in its endless wars. He put mercantilism ahead of hegemony and Empire.
And that is all to the good.
I thought that a move away from Empire and interventionism is what TAC also stood for.
It looks increasingly like that was only once upon a time. If this is the “new” TAC, it is a big disappointment to say the least.
(The first comment above is also revealing. The author of this piece is compromised from the get-go.)

#15 Comment By Chris On June 22, 2018 @ 6:23 pm

TAC is crypto-Globalist propaganda masquerading as compassionate Conservatism.

#16 Comment By SteveK9 On June 23, 2018 @ 11:11 am

I get the unfair criticism of Canada, but the G7? Who cares?

#17 Comment By Youknowho On June 23, 2018 @ 2:48 pm

The problem with tariffs is the same problem with guitars and vuvuzelas. The number of people who play them is much greater than the number of people who know how to play them.

Tariffs should be used selectively, where they will do most good. Or where they will hurt your opponent the most. Tariffs for the sake of putting tariffs have dire results, as a lot of times you cut off your supply of what you most need. Fact is, steel and aluminum are raw materials and cutting off the supply will hurt every industry that uses them. Sure, eventually we might make up for it locally. But by then, all the industries that rely on them will have lost market share to foreign competitors.

And Trump is playing the tariff vuvuzela

#18 Comment By Thomas Hamilton On June 24, 2018 @ 4:20 am

Yeah, I’m really wondering what TAC is all about. Hold whatever views you’d like, of course, but I wouldn’t expect laughably naive sermonizing about an allegedly “rules based international order.” Those in the eurozone quickly learned that the “rules based system” they signed up for was a means for Germany to accumulate economic prosperity at their expense. The US has repeatedly violated the very rules it claims to protect- I quite prefer the Russian and Chinese approach, where nobody pretends to moralize about our “moral clarity” or “moral authority” (actual phrase used by James Mattis last week with reference to the United States).

TAC was established as a place for paleoconservatism- a national conservatism which recognized the importance of borders, economic independence, and foreign policy restraint. These days, all we see is three or more articles a day from Daniel Larison screeching about everything from Donald Trump praising dictators too much to Donald Trump cooperating with unsavory states too little. But without fail, Larison is ALWAYS negative. Besides Larison, you get trite neoliberalism here, often a dramatic narrative about how a person began as a conservative and ended up voting for Obama. The only respite is the occasional article from Pat Buchanan, who still gets it. Come on guys.

#19 Comment By DR On June 25, 2018 @ 8:09 am


Not to mention, using “national security” as a pretext for slapping tariffs on completely harmless imports from longstanding allies is a travesty.

#20 Comment By Wizard On June 25, 2018 @ 11:06 am

Protectionism has already been discredited for a very long time, LouisM. And anybody who voted for Trump because they wanted small government, low taxes, low debt and strong defenses was sadly deluded. Despite a few welcome but limited deregulatory moves, Trump is constantly pushing for larger, more expensive and more intrusive government. Mere months after signing a somewhat ill-considered tax cut (not nearly enough reforms to the still Byzantine tax code, for starters), he’s turned around and started unilaterally imposing massive tax hikes on Americans in the form of import tariffs. He signed spending bills that further exploded deficit spending. As for defense, he blindly pushes for higher spending, but with little consideration as to the effectiveness of that spending. As you pointed out yourself, we’ve spent billions upon trillions over the last couple of decades without making ourselves any safer.

Don’t try and confuse them with facts, Roy Fassel. The idea that Trump’s tariffs will hurt the US isn’t a theory, it’s an observed fact. The last time the US jacked up steel tariffs (under Bush II), it ended up killing about 200k net jobs. For comparison, the entire US steel industry employs about 140k. If Trump really wants to boost US manufacturing, why is he making US manufacturers less competitive by increasing their cost for raw materials? Even his own SecDef called shenanigans on his national security rationale, and even many who reliably support protectionist policies acknowledge the harm these tariffs will do.

#21 Comment By Kurt Gayle On June 25, 2018 @ 4:21 pm

Thomas Hamilton reminds us that “TAC was established as a place for paleoconservatism- a national conservatism which recognized the importance of borders, economic independence, and foreign policy restraint.”

TAC hasn’t been that for a long time. Now, instead, “you get trite neoliberalism here, often a dramatic narrative about how a person began as a conservative and ended up voting for Obama. The only respite is the occasional article from Pat Buchanan, who still gets it.” (And where-oh-where is the controversial Pat Buchanan immigration article that should have been posted at TAC on Friday?)

I agree with Mr. Hamilton that it’s particularly painful to see a capable young paleoconservative analyst like Daniel Larison degenerate (since early 2016) into a daily source of completely un-nuanced anti-Trump diatribes: “Three or more articles a day from Daniel Larison screeching about everything from Donald Trump praising dictators too much to Donald Trump cooperating with unsavory states too little. But without fail, Larison is ALWAYS negative.” Yes, while other experienced realist and paleocon analysts find positive, encouraging aspects of Trump’s foreign policy, Larison can find nothing worthy of even measured support. Larison is 100% negative.

Equally troubling for many of us who read TAC at the beginning back in 2002, TAC has become predominantly a platform for globalist, free-trade, open-borders economic opinion that would have delighted President Hillary Clinton or President Jeb Bush.

#22 Comment By Don Walker On June 26, 2018 @ 10:47 am

Encouraging to read the posts from Chris, Thomas Hamilton, and Kurt Gail on how far TAC has devolved from its founding principles. I get the impression that the vast majority of TAC’s current readers are really young people who are still invested in debating issues like “free-trade” and immigration, while us older folks made up our minds long ago and see no point to expending any more energy on debates.