Eco­nomic storm clouds hov­er­ing over Trump and global lead­ers

The Saline Courier Weekend - - OPINION - As­so­ci­ated Press

BIARRITZ, France — Un­der the threat­en­ing clouds of a global eco­nomic slow­down, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is con­fronting the con­se­quences of his pref­er­ence to go it alone, with low ex­pec­ta­tions that the lead­ers of the richest democ­ra­cies can make sub­stan­tive progress on an ar­ray of is­sues at their sum­mit in France.

The meet­ing of the

Group of Seven na­tions — Bri­tain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.S. — in the beach re­sort town of Biarritz comes at one of the most un­pre­dictable mo­ments in Trump’s pres­i­dency, when his public com­ments and de­ci­sion-mak­ing in­creas­ingly have seemed er­ratic and acer­bic of late.

Trump, who ar­rived Satur­day, and his coun­ter­parts are fac­ing mount­ing anx­i­ety over the state of the world econ­omy and new ten­sion on trade,

Iran and Rus­sia . Trump, grow­ing more iso­lated in Washington, might find a tepid re­cep­tion at the sum­mit as calls in­crease for co­op­er­a­tion and a collective re­sponse to ad­dress the fi­nan­cial down­turn. White House aides claimed he en­gi­neered a late change to the sum­mit agenda, re­quest­ing a work­ing ses­sion on eco­nomic is­sues.

The eco­nomic warn­ing signs, along with Chi­nese’s ag­gres­sive use of tar­iffs on U.S. goods, are rais­ing the pres­sure on Trump and his re­elec­tion ef­fort. He in­tends to push al­lies at the sum­mit to act to pro­mote growth.

But Trump’s cred­i­bil­ity as a cheer­leader for mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism is in doubt, given that he has spent the first 2½ years in of­fice pro­mot­ing an “Amer­ica First” for­eign pol­icy that re­ly­ing on pro­tec­tion­ist mea­sures. Tra­di­tional Amer­i­can al­lies have come to ex­pect the un­ex­pected from this White House; in­creas­ingly they are look­ing else­where for lead­er­ship.

Only hours be­fore his ar­rival in Biarritz, Trump had threat­ened anew to place tar­iffs on French wine im­ports to the U.S. in a spat over France’s digital ser­vices tax; the Euro­pean Union promised to re­tal­i­ate. That was the back­drop for a late ad­di­tion to his sum­mit sched­ule — a twohour lunch with French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron out­side the op­u­lent Ho­tel du Palais.

The sum­mit host said the two men were dis­cussing “a lot of cri­sis” around the world, in­clud­ing Libya, Iran and Rus­sia, as well as trade pol­icy and cli­mate change. But he also echoed Trump’s calls for Europe to do more to ad­dress the global slow­down, in­clud­ing by cut­ting taxes. “When I look at Europe, es­pe­cially, we need some new tools to re­launch our econ­omy,” Macron said.

Trump in­sisted that de­spite ten­sions, he and Macron “ac­tu­ally have a lot in com­mon” and a “spe­cial re­la­tion­ship.” In a later tweet, he said: “Big week­end with other world lead­ers!

Macron out­lined de­tails of a French plan to ease ten­sions with Iran by al­low­ing Iran to export oil for a lim­ited amount of time, said a French diplo­mat, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity in ac­cor­dance with the pres­i­dency’s cus­tom­ary prac­tices. In ex­change, Iran would need to fully put in place the 2015 nuclear deal, re­duce ten­sions in the Per­sian Gulf and open talks. The plan was met with a skep­ti­cal re­cep­tion by Trump, and the White House paid only a cur­sory men­tion of the Gulf in its of­fi­cial read­out of the lunch meet­ing.

Trade was clearly on Trump’s mind when he left for France. Trump de­clared that U.S. busi­nesses with deal­ings in China are “hereby or­dered” to be­gin mov­ing home. There was no im­me­di­ate ex­pla­na­tion of what he ex­pected or what au­thor­ity he had to make that hap­pen. He also im­posed higher tar­iffs on Chi­nese im­ports.

Ear­lier, he had made light of a sharp drop in the fi­nan­cial mar­kets in reaction to his lat­est trade moves. His tongue-in-cheek tweet spec­u­lated that the Dow’s plunge could be tied to the de­par­ture of a low­ertier can­di­date in the race for the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion.

In re­cent days, Trump has sent mixed sig­nals on a num­ber of pol­icy fronts. At one point, he moved to sim­mer the trade con­flict with China in or­der to ease the im­pact on Amer­i­can con­sumers dur­ing the hol­i­day shop­ping sea­son. At an­other, he flip-flopped on the need for tax cuts to stim­u­late an econ­omy that Trump publicly in­sists is rock­et­ing.

Feed­ing Trump’s anx­i­ety, aides say, is his re­al­iza­tion that the econ­omy — the one sturdy pil­lar un­der­gird­ing his bid for a sec­ond term — is un­de­ni­ably wob­bly.

Trump planned to press lead­ers about what can be done to spur growth in the U.S. and abroad, as well as to open Euro­pean, Ja­panese and Cana­dian mar­kets to Amer­i­can man­u­fac­tur­ers and pro­duc­ers. Trump has im­posed or threat­ened to im­pose tar­iffs on all three mar­kets in his pur­suit of free, fair and re­cip­ro­cal trade.

The an­nual G-7 sum­mit has his­tor­i­cally been used to high­light com­mon ground among the world’s lead­ing democ­ra­cies. But in a bid to work around Trump’s im­pul­sive­ness, Macron has es­chewed plans for a for­mal joint state­ment from this gath­er­ing.

Last year’s sum­mit, hosted by Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, ended in ac­ri­mony when Trump felt he had been slighted by Trudeau af­ter the pres­i­dent left the meet­ing.

Trump tweeted in­sults at Trudeau from aboard Air Force One as he flew to a sum­mit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. Trump with­drew his sig­na­ture from the state­ment of prin­ci­ples that all seven na­tions had agreed to.

Ad­dress­ing the global slow­down isn’t the only press­ing challenge that Trump has discovered re­quires joint ac­tion.

For more than a year, his ad­min­is­tra­tion has strug­gled with per­suad­ing Euro­pean lead­ers to repa­tri­ate cap­tured fighters from the Is­lamic State group. So far his en­treaties have fallen on deaf ears.

Many of the sum­mit pro­ceed­ings will take place be­hind closed doors, in in­ti­mate set­tings de­signed for the lead­ers to de­velop per­sonal re­la­tion­ships with one an­other. On Satur­day night they dined at the Biarritz light­house, with com­mand­ing views of the Bay of Bis­cay.

Trump, White House aides said, was look­ing for­ward to a Sun­day morn­ing meet­ing with new British Prime Min­is­ter Boris Johnson , the brash pro­brexit leader whose elec­tion he’d backed. The two spoke by phone on Fri­day, and Johnson said Satur­day he would use the meet­ing to push Trump to de-es­ca­late the Amer­i­can trade war with China.

Trump has sched­uled individual meet­ings with sev­eral of his coun­ter­parts, in­clud­ing Macron, Trudeau, Merkel, Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe and In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi.

Other top­ics on the agenda will be the clashes between po­lice and prodemoc­racy protesters in Hong Kong; Iran’s re­newed nuclear en­rich­ment and in­ter­fer­ence with ship­ping in the Strait of Hor­muz; and the Is­lamic State pris­on­ers cur­rently im­pris­oned by Amer­i­can-backed Kur­dish forces in Syria.

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