At G-7 Meeting, Western Divisions On Display

Aug 24, 2019
Originally published on August 26, 2019 8:49 am
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The leaders of seven major developed economies, the G-7, are in France for two days of meetings at a crucial time. The Amazon is burning. A trade war is raging between the U.S. and China. There's concern about the economy in the U.S., and there's apprehension among some leaders about how to handle differences with President Trump. NPR's Frank Langfitt is in the coastal town of Biarritz covering the meeting, and he's with us now.

Frank, thank you so much for joining us.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Great to be here, Michel.

MARTIN: And President Trump just arrived today. How does he seem to be approaching this meeting?

LANGFITT: Well, differently than the other leaders. You know, remember - the G-7 was created back in the mid-'70s for major powers like the United Kingdom, France and Germany to address big problems. The president's approach seems to be more narrow and transactional. He's less focused on big issues on the agenda like climate change and inequality and seems more interested in talking trade in side meetings with other leaders. For instance, he's pressing a case with French President Emmanuel Macron - he's the host here - opposing France taxing tech companies like Facebook and Google on earnings here in France. And here's how the president put it before his arrival here today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Frankly, I don't want France going out and taxing our companies - very unfair. 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.

MARTIN: Interesting, given that the president isn't that fond of the tech companies either.

LANGFITT: No, he's not.

MARTIN: You know, so what kind of body language are you seeing so far among the leaders?

LANGFITT: It's pretty revealing. You know, there was this impromptu lunch today where Trump sat down on a patio at this beachfront hotel with President Macron, and he said nice words. He praised the weather, said it was a beautiful spot, which indeed it is, and said that they had a good relationship. But if you looked at him, the expression was totally different. His arms were folded. He wasn't smiling. And frankly, he didn't look excited to be here.

And I think it's worth remembering - when it comes to multicountry organizations like the European Union, the WTO - frankly, even NATO - he doesn't like them that much. He feels that the other countries gang up on the United States, that the U.S. often gets a raw deal and runs counter to his America First agenda.

MARTIN: Many people might remember that President Trump left the last G-7 summit early and then refused to sign the group communique. So how are the other leaders responding to President Trump so far?

LANGFITT: Well, we haven't gotten to see much. But in this lunch with Macron, you know, he was - the president, Macron, was trying to emphasize common ground. He said although the two of them don't agree on climate change - Trump, of course, pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord - both, of course, want to reduce carbon emissions. And, in fact, Macron has decided not to even try to have the leaders issue a communique after this meeting because he's not sure that they can come to any agreement. Then, earlier today, Donald Tusk - he's the president the European Council - he spoke more broadly about the need for unity, especially right now. This is what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

DONALD TUSK: There is still no certainty whether the group will be able to find common solutions or whether it will focus on senseless disputes among each other.

LANGFITT: And it's clear there that Donald Tusk in part is referring to President Trump here.

MARTIN: So what's on tap for tomorrow?

LANGFITT: Well, Trump meets with Boris Johnson in the morning. This is the first meeting between the two since Johnson became the U.K.'s prime minister. They will be talking about the U.K. possibly crashing out of the European Union at the end of October. That's something that most economists think is terrible. But frankly, President Trump is cheering on that kind of result, which also speaks to the divisions right now in the West - which, again, are being exposed here at the meeting.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Frank Langfitt.

Frank, thank you so much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.