World News

The G-7 Summit: What to Watch For

Posted June 8, 2018 7:31 a.m. EDT

President Donald Trump is scheduled to depart for Canada on Friday morning for the annual G-7 summit meeting, a gathering of leaders of the United States and six of its main allies. But the two-day meeting comes at a fraught moment, with the U.S. president locked in a bitter trade dispute with the other leaders over Trump’s imposition of tariffs. Here are five things to watch:

— The locale: La Malbaie

If any place could soothe the tempers of G-7 leaders, it is the weekend getaway village of La Malbaie, 90 miles northeast of Quebec City, near the languid waters of the St. Lawrence River. Even the police, flown in from as far as St. John’s, Newfoundland, are friendly, waving cars through their blockades past the imposing Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu hotel, where the leaders will meet.

The village’s waterside square, where locals celebrate holidays together, has been transformed into a “free speech zone,” but on Thursday evening, the only sound produced there came from birds.

— The battlefield: Twitter

Forget the formal and old-fashioned statements from summit meetings past. In the hours before the opening of the gathering, Trump and the other leaders waged a nasty Twitter fight over trade, ditching diplomacy for schoolyard taunts.

Given Trump’s regular use of social media to attack his rivals — and the apparent willingness of Emmanuel Macron, the French president, to meet Trump on the digital battlefield — the summit meeting itself could play out on Twitter as well. The key accounts to follow: @realDonaldTrump, @EmmanuelMacron, @JustinTrudeau and @theresa_may.

— The clues: Body language

Summit meetings are public spectacles, but the real work happens behind closed doors. So one of the best ways to figure out what’s going on is to watch the body language during the brief glimpses before and after the meetings and lunches.

If Trump slumps down or crosses his arms tightly, that could be an indication that he’s angry about what just took place. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is not great at hiding her displeasure, if she gives Trump the cold shoulder it could be telling. And if the famous bromance between Macron and Trump is no longer, that should be obvious by the way they shake hands.

— The end game: Concessions

Before the summit meeting, Trump has given no indication that he will retreat from his imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Europe and Canada. But if the allies succeed in pressing their case that the trade policy is illegal and unfair, it may be evident in announcements from the United States of exemptions for some of the countries involved. That seems highly unlikely, given the statements by Trump and his top trade officials.

But the president is famous for abruptly changing course in ways that most of his predecessors would have avoided — for example, the on-again, off-again, on-again summit meeting with North Korea.

— The drama: A communiqué?

The tradition at G-7 summit meetings is to conclude with a joint statement, carefully worked out to highlight the agreement and cooperation among the leaders on a broad range of topics. That seems highly unlikely this time.

In fact, Macron and Trudeau have already threatened to boycott such a joint statement unless Trump reverses his tariffs. And Macron has suggested that the six other countries could rebuke Trump by issuing their own declaration of principles without the United States. That would be a remarkable moment that underscores the extent to which the U.S. president has isolated himself from the country’s traditional allies.