It’s only Day 1 of the latest round of G20 talks and things have already gotten ugly.
When it comes to free trade in particular, it appears to be Trump against the world.
The U.S. president joined 19 of his counterparts at the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, Friday, with issues on the table ranging from trade to climate change. But talk led to tension and the rest of the world was nearly united in their opposition to Trump’s agenda for the U.S.—and the world.
The biggest divides are on climate change, since Trump pulled the U.S. from the Paris climate deal, and, of course, his policies on trade, which have strayed from the known or expected and have left other nations at a bit of a loss for how to play nice with the U.S. And the problem is, not knowing how to play nice on trade could easily be a formula for a trade war.
[Read more about countries aligning without the US: Next in Trade: Will China and Mexico do a Free Trade Deal?]
Trump has been mulling whether to put tariffs on imports of foreign-produced steel and has alluded to steep imports harming national security, and if those imports are in fact harming national security—or if he says they are—Trump could use a rarely tapped section of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to slap tariffs on steel.
While this has little directly to do with apparel, should that be the move he makes, Europe has already thrown out threats of a trade war.
“We will respond with countermeasures if need be, hoping that this is not actually necessary,” The Washington Post reported European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker as saying. “We are prepared to take up arms if need be.” If Trump announces the tariffs on steel imports, Juncker added that Europe’s response would come in days following the decision, rather than months.
Whether a trade war in fact ensues, the world has been clear that it isn’t behind Trump’s protectionist trade policies and that they’ll carry on as necessary on trade without U.S. involvement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been clearer than most about his distaste for Trump’s policies. Ahead of their first face-to-face meeting and before the G20 Summit started, Putin wrote in an article for German newspaper Handelsblatt on Wednesday, “Protectionism is becoming the norm, while unilateral, politically motivated restrictions on trade and investment, as well as technology transfer, are nothing but masked protectionism.”
He continued, “We believe that these sanctions are not only doomed to fail, but also run counter to the G20 principles of cooperation in the interests of all countries.”
The comment was seen as a light threat to Trump, though reports of the pair’s meeting on the sidelines of the G20 meeting painted a positive picture.
G20 leaders will continue their meetings through the weekend, and Monday will likely reveal much about the way trade will shape up.