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Trump vs. world: Tariff dispute likely to cast a chill over G-7 summit

Key Points
  • Friday's G-7 meeting in Quebec is likely to be overshadowed by President Donald Trump's decision to press ahead with tariffs on the U.S.' allies.
  • The two-day summit will see Donald Trump meet with his counterparts from Canada, Japan, the U.K., France, Germany, Italy and the wider European Union.
President Donald Trump 
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

There will likely be a chill in the air at Friday's G-7 meeting in Quebec following President Donald Trump's decision to press ahead with tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from the European Union, Mexico and Canada.

The two-day summit will see Trump meet with his counterparts from Canada, Japan, the U.K., France, Germany and Italy.

Given that last week the U.S. announced it would impose tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports from countries attending the G-7 summit, the meeting is unlikely to be pleasant.

One strategist, Craig Nicol at Deutsche Bank, said in a note Tuesday that "all eyes appear to be on this Friday and Saturday's G-7 meeting in Quebec and whether or not it will be a united G-7 meeting or more a G-6+1."

The countries affected by Trump's tariffs have already responded. The EU said it would retaliate, having already indicated in March what goods, ranging from cranberries and orange juice to Bourbon and motorbikes, it could target. It said its tariffs could take effect on July 1.

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Mexico announced Wednesday that it would impose a 20 percent tariff on U.S. pork imports. Canada, meanwhile, is looking to coordinate its response to the tariffs with the EU.

China, too, said last weekend that it would scrap any deals aimed at mitigating trade tensions if Trump's threatened tariff hike on Chinese goods goes ahead.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron met Wednesday to discuss their next move and said in a statement Thursday that they both "support a strong, responsible, transparent multilateralism to face the global challenges."

'Liveliest' summit in decades

Simon Derrick, chief currency strategist at BNY Mellon, said the summit was looking like it could be "one of the liveliest summit meetings in several decades." He said the crux of the matter was a different approach taken to trade negotiations by the U.S

"I think the problem is that there are two very different approaches here. Within the U.S. it seems to have an approach of, 'Well, this is how we would negotiate in a business situation,' whereas the rest of the world is looking at this and saying, 'This is how we deal with situations like this on a diplomatic basis,' and they're two entirely different approaches," Derrick told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Thursday.

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"We don't know how it's going to work out, but you'd probably think that the diplomatic approach, which is the tried and tested one for several hundred years in these circumstances, is probably the right one."

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow tried to down play trade tensions Wednesday, noting that Trump will hold bilateral meetings with his French and Canadian counterparts during the summit. He described the trade disputes as "a family quarrel" but said Trump would not back down.

U.S. economist Carl Weinberg, from High Frequency Economics, told CNBC on Thursday that the Trump administration had put itself "at angst with all our political and economic allies" and that Kudlow's comments were not reassuring.

"Mr Kudlow suggests that if we're patient we'll see results, but maybe he knows something we don't, but I don't think the Chinese are afraid of U.S. tariffs. I think they have a lot less to lose in this game than the Americans do both politically and economically and I don't think this American strategy is going to succeed in doing anything except encouraging our allies to pivot away from their relationships with us and closer to relationships with China," he said.

Breaking the status quo

Despite criticism of Trump's breaking of the status quo regarding trade relationships, the data highlight persistent imbalances between the U.S. and the rest of the world.

Trump administration has put US at odds with all economic and political allies: Pro

U.S. commerce department data from April showed that the U.S. trade deficit (the amount by which its imports outweighed its exports) dropped 2.1 percent to $46.2 billion, a seven-month low, thanks to a rise in exports.

A protectionist stance over trade — albeit to protect domestic industries — and retaliatory measures by other countries could reverse the positive trend seen in export growth, however.

Whether Trump will modify his course at the G-7 summit is unlikely, however. James Knightly, chief international economist at ING, said in a note Wednesday that Trump would not cut G-7 nations any slack given trade data and persistent deficits.

"Year-to-date, the trade deficit shows little sign of narrowing," Knightly said in a research note.

"The deficit with China over the first four months of 2018 is $119 billion up from $106.5 billion in the first four months of 2017. The deficit with the EU is up nearly $11 billion over the same period and the deficit with Mexico is up by $1.1 billion," he said, noting that only the deficits with Korea and Canada have narrowed.

"As such, Trump is likely to keep the pressure on China and the EU at the forthcoming G-7 meeting on Friday."