U.S. President Donald Trump "will be sticking to his guns" at the upcoming Group of Seven summit despite criticism of his trade policies from allies, one of his key economic advisers told reporters on Wednesday.
"The president is at ease with all these tough issues," said Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council. "There's always tension about something" between the United States and other G7 members.
The comments in the White House press briefing room came shortly after both Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is hosting the G7 summit in Charlevoix, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel forecast difficult discussions on Friday and Saturday.
Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), said, "This is essentially a recipe for a G6 plus one."
Protecting American workers
Kudlow, in his remarks, denied the United States is now engaged in a trade war with its strategic partners, as well as China, but that the United States will do what is necessary to protect American workers and industries.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels on Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said it is too early to call the tariffs dispute a trade war and contended the United States is justified in demanding "fair and reciprocal" trade with its partners.
Mattis said disputes in the economic arena with allies are not expected to damage military and security relations.
Setting the stage for the G7 discussions in the province of Quebec, Kudlow declared, "The world trading system is a mess. It's broken down." But, he added, "don't blame Trump. Blame the nations that have broken away from those conditions."
It is now clear that the United States and the other G7 countries are "no longer singing from the same hymn book" and that has serious ramifications for the global trading order, said Lynn Fischer Fox, a former deputy assistant secretary for policy and negotiations in the U.S. Commerce Department's International Trade Administration.
Fischer Fox, who led negotiations for a number of trade remedy disputes during former President Barack Obama's administration, describes Trump's approach to trade as upsetting and unpredictable.
Asked by VOA News if the administration will respect decisions of the World Trade Organization filed against the United States over recent tariffs imposed by Trump, Kudlow replied: "We are bound by the national interests here more than anything else. International multilateral organizations are not going to determine American policy."
While there have been tensions between the United States and other G7 leaders previously on strategic issues, such as the placement of nuclear weapons in Europe and the Iraq War, this rift appears far more fundamental, according to some analysts.
The United States has always followed the international rules, Fischer Fox tells VOA News. "And we've confronted other nations that use this kind of tactic of saber-rattling or hostage-taking, as it were, to try to get what they want out of the international system, outside of the rules," she says.
Fischer Fox contends, "Violating the rules doesn't give you a means to negotiate around the rules. If they (the Trump administration) want to negotiate the rules to be different, that's what they should be putting on the table."
The leaders of the other countries have no political choice now but to confront Trump, the Peterson Institute's Kirkegaard tells VOA News.
"If you do not sanction an American president who behaves like this, every president and administration after this will think that trade policy is something you can easily mess with," Kirkegaard says.
Speaking in the Bundestag on Wednesday, Merkel warned that G7 countries "must not keep watering down" previous summit conclusions committing the group to fair multilateral trade and rejecting protectionism.
"There must not be a compromise simply for the sake of a compromise," Merkel said. If an acceptable agreement can't be reached, a "chairman's summary" by the Canadian hosts "is perhaps a more honest path -- there is no sense in papering over divisions at will."
University of Denver international affairs professor Jonathan Adelman said the G7 meeting is relevant and that it is possible the members will make progress in less public moments.
"I think that one possibility is that when the doors are closed and the media isn’t there anymore that there will be some effort to negotiate something that is rational and reasonable," Adelman told VOA.
Canada's foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, said on Wednesday that steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by the United States coming into force on July 1 are illegal and the Canadian response will be measured and proportionate.
Trump will be seeing many of the G7 leaders again soon. He is set to meet British Prime Minister Theresa May in the United Kingdom next month. And he is also expected to attend the annual NATO summit to be held in Brussels in mid-July.