EU leaders round on Trump over trade at G7

Biarritz (France) (AFP) –


EU leaders rounded on US President Donald Trump over his trade threats Saturday at a G7 summit in France overshadowed by trans-Atlantic tensions and worries about the global economy.

After ramping up his high-risk trade war with China on Friday, Trump left for the meeting with his Western partners in surf town Biarritz threatening to impose punishing tariffs on French wine.

"The last thing we need is confrontation with our best ally the United States," EU Council President Donald Tusk said on Saturday, while adding that the bloc would "respond in kind" to any new US tariffs.

French host of the G7 summit, President Emmanuel Macron, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also sounded the alarm about the dangers of Trump's escalating trade war with China.

"I am very concerned. The UK is at risk of being implicated in this. This is not the way to proceed," Johnson told reporters on the plane to the summit.

"I want to see a dialling down of tensions."

G7 summits were once a meeting of like-minded allies -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

But not since Trump's 2016 election victory.

In an attempt to lighten the mood, Macron deployed the charms of French cuisine diplomacy, treating the US leader to a surprise lunch minutes after he had arrived on Air Force One.

Speaking to reporters in fluent English, Macron called Trump "a very special guest" and aides later said that the two men had found some common ground, notably on the Iran nuclear crisis.

- 'So far so good' -

Trump, sitting across the small table on a terrace of the ornate Hotel du Palais, appeared to be softened by the warm, unscheduled welcome.

"So far so good. The weather is perfect. Everybody's getting along. I think we will accomplish a lot this weekend," Trump said, praising his "special relationship" with Macron.

In addition to the global economy and fears of recession, the G7 chiefs are hoping to soothe tensions over Iran's nuclear crisis and ease Trump's policy of "maximum pressure".

European powers are urging the US to offer some sort of relief to Iran, such as lifting sanctions on oil sales to China and India, or allowing a new credit line for exports.

"Donald Trump confirmed that he does not see a conflict, that he wanted a deal with Iran," a French official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

"We have found major points of convergence," the aide added, including on the issue of protecting the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.

Macron is pushing for action against fires in the Amazon rainforest, despite Brazilian right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro's angry response to what he sees as outside interference.

Echoing criticism from France, Tusk said Bolsonaro's response to the "destruction of the green lungs of the Earth" was insufficient and he warned that a big EU trade deal with South America could be imperilled.

- 'People are mobilised' -

G7 leaders were greeted by largely peaceful protests as they arrived in Biarritz, albeit some 30 kilometres (20 miles) from the venue of the talks.

Organisers said 15,000 people rallied around at the border town of Hendaye for a march over the Bidassoa River toward the Spanish town of Irun.

"It's important to show that people are mobilised and do not accept the world they're offering us," said Elise Dilet, 47, of a local anti-globalisation group, Bizi.

Police said 17 people were arrested on Friday night, but there has been no sign so far of violent anti-government "yellow vest" protests or anarchist violence, as feared.

- Escalating threats -

Wall Street stocks slumped heavily Friday after Trump escalated his trade war with China.

"We don't need China and, frankly, would be far... better off without them," Trump tweeted on Friday.

His outburst came after China imposed tariffs on US imports worth $75 billion in response to an earlier round of American measures.

Trump hit back immediately, with a sharp increase in his own tariffs on all Chinese imports.

A Chinese commerce ministry spokesman on Saturday denounced Washington's "unilateral and bullying trade protectionism", adding that "the US will surely eat its own bitter fruit."

In a televised address ahead of the summit, Macron said his goal was "to convince all our partners that trade tensions are bad for everyone".

The G7 meeting marks the full international debut of Johnson, who will meet Trump for the first time as Britain's leader on Sunday.

They are expected to discuss the UK's impending exit from the European Union, which the US president has enthusiastically backed.

Johnson arrived saying that he was committed to yanking Britain from the EU with no deal on future relations if his conditions are not met.

But though Johnson needs Trump's support for a free-trade deal, he is at odds with him on a range of issues including the Iran nuclear crisis, climate change and global trade.