US isolated as G7 ministerial draws to a close

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The United States faced unified opposition from the world’s top economies to President Donald Trump’s escalating, multi-front trade offensive at the end of high-level meetings Saturday soured by the imposition of tariffs.

G7 ministers urged US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who was at the event, to express their “unanimous concern and disappointments” to the White House over new US tariffs, Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau told reporters.

Morneau, speaking at the end of the Group of Seven ministerial meeting, said that the finance ministers and central bank governors were unanimously opposed at the harsh US steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by the Trump administration.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire also expressed his anger as the meetings ended.

“I want to make it clear,” Le Maire said, “that it is up to the US administration to make the right decisions to alleviate the situation and ease the difficulties.”

He said that events next week “will depend on the decision the (US) administration is ready to take in the next few days and in the next few hours — I’m not talking about weeks ahead,” Le Maire said.

Outraged leaders from the world’s major economies launched legal challenges Friday after announcing countermeasures to retaliate against harsh steel and aluminum tariffs that Trump allowed to take effect.

No joint final statement emerged from the G7 ministerial meeting, a sign of the strong discord as the world’s major economies verged on open trade conflict.

The European Union and Canada are the largest US exporters of steel and aluminum respectively.

Trump’s tariffs on America’s largest foreign providers of the crucial metals upended the agenda for this normally convivial event for consensus-building among countries that account for about half of global GDP.

Finance ministers at this snow-capped mountain resort north of Vancouver, British Columbia instead spoke of exasperation and an abiding sense of betrayal by a long-time ally.

Chairing the meeting, host nation Canada’s Finance Minister Bill Morneau allowed participants to register grievances with Mnuchin one at a time, according to a Canadian source.

Behind the closed doors Mnuchin listened but spoke little, saying instead the discussion could continue at next week’s G7 summit in the French-speaking province of Quebec at which Trump is expected to participate, according to several sources briefed on the talks.

But the week’s whirlwind global developments in trade suggested de-escalation was unlikely. In Washington on Friday, Trump mooted the possibility of scrapping the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement in favor of seeking bilateral agreements with Canada and Mexico.

G7 governments were also digesting Trump’s threats to impose tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in US auto imports on purported national security grounds.

In China, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was due to conduct trade talks with Chinese officials even as Washington finalizes planned sanctions on Beijing — including restrictions on Chinese investment in the United States, new export controls and 25 percent tariffs on about $50 billion in tech-sector goods.

The talks come despite Washington’s apparent announcement last month of a truce with Beijing following talks in Washington last month.

China has threatened to hit back with tit-for-tat tariffs on tens of billions of dollars in US goods — as have Canadian, EU and Mexican authorities.

They have targeted goods manufactured in key US political districts that could weaken Trump’s hand after November’s mid-term elections.

The final list of Chinese imports affected by US tariffs will be announced June 15 and imposed shortly thereafter, while the proposed investment restrictions and enhanced export controls will be announced by June 30, according to the White House.

“China’s door for negotiation remains open,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Friday.