President Donald Trump departs late Friday for a summit he’s questioned is worth his time.
This year’s G7 gathering, held in seaside France, is Trump’s third. It comes amid global economic jitters, tensions from the Mideast to the Indian subcontinent and raging fires in the Amazon.
But in conversations with aides over the past weeks, Trump has questioned why he must attend, according to people familiar with the conversations. After the past two G7 summits ended acrimoniously, Trump complained about attending a third, saying he didn’t view the gathering as a particularly productive use of his time.
He’s made similar asides in meetings with other world leaders, including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and French President Emmanuel Macron, who have encouraged him over the past six months to commit to attending the Biarritz summit, people familiar with the conversations said. Macron is this year’s summit host.
The G7 represents the world’s major economies, and has long been a regular stop on the US President’s calendar. In small group sessions, with only the leaders and few aides present, the world’s major economic and geopolitical problems are discussed at length.
It’s a more workaday style of foreign travel than the type of trip Trump has come to enjoy, which usually include lavish displays of welcome like royal parades or state banquets. It’s also a practice in the kind of multilateralism that Trump and his aides have downplayed in favor of one-one-one negotiations with other countries.
The session’s hosts help determine the agenda. Last year’s meeting, in a rural Canadian riverside resort, focused on the environment and a proliferation of plastics in the ocean. A year earlier, the assembled leaders collectively worked to convince Trump to remain in the Paris climate accord (he withdrew a month later).
After those summits, Trump was irked at the lengthy discussions about the environment and oceans, the people familiar said, and felt he wasn’t given enough room to tout his achievements as president. Inside the White House, it wasn’t clear Trump would commit to attending the this year’s G7 until late spring.
To help make his attendance this week more palatable, aides lobbied to add a Sunday morning session focused on the global economy as a venue for him to brag about the US economy to leaders of nations where growth is slowing.
“I would anticipate President Trump will be speaking quite frankly about the policies he’s seen work in his own economy and really wanting to work with other countries in the G7 to figure out how we can jumpstart growth in economies all around to ensure that there are markets and opportunities for all of our workers and people,” an administration official said of the President’s goal in calling for the economic talks.
How that sessions unfolds remains to be seen: fellow leaders blame the global slowdown partly on his protracted trade war with China, which devolved on Friday when China announced new retaliatory tariffs on US goods. Trump responded by pressing American firms to cease business there, and equity markets dropped sharply.
And the notion of the American President convening a session simply to flaunt the relative strength of the US economy – and taking credit for it – isn’t likely to sit well with other leaders, particularly since many of them blame his trade tactics for a slump in global growth.
“The @G7 shouldn’t be an ego trip. Even those who think they are chosen need friends,” former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright tweeted.
Already, French organizers have set low expectations for a concluding show of unity. Macron has said the notion of producing a joint communiqué at the end is “pointless.” And Trump is preparing more intently for the several individual meetings he’s scheduled with other leaders – including a new ally, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
If this year’s G7 ends poorly, however, Trump’s foreign counterparts won’t need to fret about his attendance at next year’s. He’s due to host it, and his Doral golf resort outside Miami has been reported as a possible venue.