US President Donald Trump threatened his French hosts with taxes on their wines Friday as he headed to a G7 summit in France with a series of parting shots, including another broadside at the Federal Reserve’s chairman.
After a day that saw big falls on Wall Street after he announced new tariffs against China, Trump was in no doubt that he would emerge victorious from his trade war and appeared in a combative mood all round ahead of the diplomatic gathering.
Trump blew up last year’s G7 summit in Quebec, plunging into a bitter row with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and refusing to sign the group’s traditional joint declaration.
And on issues such as trade tariffs, global warming, Iran, Brexit as well as how to handle Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, Trump’s America now stands in opposition to several of its closest allies.
“I think it will be very productive,” Trump told reporters outside the White House shortly before beginning his trip to France where he will meet with the other leaders of the world’s seven wealthiest countries from Saturday.
G7s always used to be cozy affairs, giving the leaders of like-minded, capitalist democracies a chance to relax and talk frankly in the context of largely shared values.
But like a summer thunderstorm driving sunbathers from the beach, Trump will join the summit at the seaside resort of Biarritz in a threatening mood.
His main ire is currently directed towards China and Friday saw him increase existing and planned tariffs on a total of $550 billion in Chinese products in retaliation for Beijing taking action against $75 billion in American goods.
“Our tariffs are very good for us,” Trump said. “China’s paying for it.”
“Our economy is doing great. We are having a little spat with China and we’ll win it.”
The prospect of a prolonged trade war between the world’s two largest economies has cast a shadow over the G7 and the mood of his hosts will not have been improved by Trump’s threat to target French wines in retaliation for threatened taxes on US tech companies such as Google who’ve been able to operate abroad without paying taxes.
“Those are great American companies, and frankly, I don’t want France going out and taxing our companies. Very unfair,” he told reporters.
“And if they do that, we’ll be taxing their wine or doing something else. We’ll be taxing their wine like they’ve never seen before.”
In a further sign of Trump’s dark mood, the president once again turned on Federal Reserve chief Jerome Powell, saying he “wouldn’t stop him” if he wanted to quit.
“I’m not happy with Jay Powell. I don’t think he’s doing a good job at all,” said Trump who is furious that the Federal Reserve is not cutting interest rates aggressively.
“He’s going to be a bull in a china shop,” Robert Guttman, director of the Center for Politics & Foreign Relations at Johns Hopkins University, said of Trump at the summit in France.
There’s already friction between Trump and the Europeans, Canada and Japan over trade tariffs — the Republican president’s principal foreign policy weapon.
Discussions on economic growth have been scheduled — at the “last minute” request of the White House — for Sunday morning and Trump will basically tell his partners to shape up, a senior administration official said.
Yet another diplomatic hand grenade went off days before the trip, when Trump reiterated his desire to recreate the G8 format with Russia, expelled in 2014 after Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Crimea.
One G7 leader possibly looking forward to meeting Trump is British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is struggling to manage his country’s chaotic exit from the European Union.
While Johnson finds it tough going with Merkel and Macron, he’s likely to encounter a much warmer Trump, who says the EU has “not treated the UK very well.”
And after having encouraged Brexit, Trump is eager to strike a bilateral trade deal with Britain.
Image: AFP / Alastair Pike US President Donald Trump speaks to the press as he departs the White House for the G7 Summit in France