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Ahead of G7 Summit

Will Trudeau sidestep the many potential pitfalls?

June 04, 2018 | by JOHN KIRTON and BRITTANEY WARREN

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in Toronto, Canada, Sept. 23, 2017. Photo by EJ Hersom via wikimedia.commons.org, CC BY 2.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

At the upcoming G7 meeting in Canada all eyes will be on Justin Trudeau as he attempts to sidestep potential political pitfalls.

On June 8-9, 2018, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will host leaders of the world’s most powerful democracies for the annual Group of Seven (G7) summit.

The international gaze will focus, in particular, on U.S. president Donald Trump, whose unilateral policies on trade, climate change and migration make him the odd man out. British Prime Minister Theresa May will also be closely watched as she searches for new trade deals with G7 countries as her “Brexit” deadline approaches. The French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, will likely use his good personal relationship with Trump to seek solutions all other G7 partners want. Also arriving will be Germany’s veteran Chancellor Angela Merkel, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Italy’s Prime Minister and the European Union’s Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Junker.

Held in the Charlevoix region of Quebec, the summit will take place amidst growing populism, protectionism, provincialism and urgent global threats led by the use of chemical weapons in Syria, North Korean nuclear and missile proliferation, Russian attacks and relentless climate change.

Trudeau has fixed a range of goals ahead of the international meeting. These span creating growth which works for everyone, preparing for jobs of the future, advancing gender equality and cooperation on climate change and the environment. The fifth priority, building a more peaceful and secure world, addresses the use of chemical weapons in Europe and Syria; nuclear and missile proliferation in North Korea; regional security risks in Ukraine, the Baltic states, the Middle East, North Africa, Venezuela and Asia; terrorism; crime and corruption; and violations of democracy and human rights.

Taming Trump

Ahead of the international meeting, speculation is growing on whether Donald Trump will be tamed. Trudeau and other G7 leaders, led by Macron, have been working hard to cultivate a positive relationship with the far-right, populist and protectionist U.S. president. This could pay off at Charlevoix, where Trudeau’s priorities of economic growth and jobs are shared by Trump and his electoral base. However, on trade and climate change, it will be harder to avoid a situation of “G6 versus one”.

Meanwhile, the issue of inequality exerts a big pressure across all the G7 states. In this regard, Canada, the summit’s host, is no exception. This reality is surmised in the most recent Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI) report, which underscores the timeliness of Trudeau’s push for growth which works for everyone. The report states: “Canada has seen a substantial rise in income inequality over the past few decades. Mirroring trends in the United States and other Western economies, the share of total income going to the top 1% of earners has increased dramatically since 1980.”

This would suggest that the world’s citizens have legitimate reason to protest their economic hardships and demand better inclusion. This has made many people vulnerable to the rapid spread of misinformation online. Additional fears incited by non-state terrorist actors, including those built on religious and misogynistic ideologies, compounds insecurities and shines a spotlight on the powerful narrative of the “other”.

This trend threatens the G7’s first foundational mission of promoting democratic values. The world’s most powerful nations need to stand united in providing a strong counter-narrative to divisive voices, as well as to mobilize sufficient resources to create a more equal world.

Trudeau's Headaches at Home

These values include the distinctive Canadian ones of multiculturalism, openness and multilateralism. Yet Trudeau himself faces challenges at home. While voters have praised him for his restraint in dealing with Trump, in his promotion of diversity and immigration, in his embrace of feminism and gender equality, and in his support for the Paris Agreement on climate change, Trudeau’s popularity has sunk since his 2016 election to a now narrow lead. Thus as the federal election in 2019 looms, Trudeau must produce a successful summit that will boost his political prospects at home and reassure the world’s citizens that the G7 is itself undivided in a divided world.

At the summit itself Trudeau’s greatest challenge will be mainstreaming gender throughout the G7 agenda and making Canadians and others recognize the step forward.

Despite these challenges Canada will probably steer the summit to significant success, although it is likely to extend its long-standing focus on security topics. The summit is set to produce historic support for military force against Syria’s use of chemical weapons; more unified, effective, punitive and deterrent action against Russia through stronger sanctions, cyber-security and support for Ukraine; and new moves against terrorism and nuclear and missile proliferation. Additionally, Charlevoix will be the G7’s and world’s first genuine gender equality summit, via the innovation of linking gender to issues of economic growth, society and sustainability.

Other probable developments include fostering cooperation on trade and investment and ecological protection against plastics and coastal pollution, as well as addressing climate change and overfishing, and supporting resilient communities and clean energy.

Such success will be enhanced by Charlevoix's isolated setting, the experience of its participants, the likeability of Justin Trudeau, and Donald Trump’s love of striking high-profile deals.

John Kirton is the Director of the G7 Research Group at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. He is a professor of political science and teaches international relations, global governance and Canadian foreign policy. “G7 Canada: The 2018 Charlevoix Summit", a background publication produced by John Kirton and the G7 Research Group, can be downloaded here.

Brittaney Warren is Director of Compliance Research and Lead Researcher for Climate Change and Environment for the G7 Research Group, based at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.

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