By David Lawder and Leigh Thomas
WHISTLER, British Columbia (Reuters) – Finance leaders of the closest U.S. allies vented anger over the Trump administration’s metal import tariffs but ended a three-day meeting in Canada on Saturday with no solutions, setting the stage for a heated fight at a G7 summit next week in Quebec.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin failed to soothe the frustrations of his Group of Seven counterparts over the 25 percent steel and 10 percent aluminium tariffs that Washington imposed on Mexico, Canada and the European Union this week.
The other six G7 member countries asked Mnuchin to bring to President Donald Trump “a message of regret and disappointment” over the tariffs, Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau said at a press conference after the end of a three-day meeting in the Canadian mountain resort town of Whistler, British Columbia.
“We’re concerned that these actions are actually not conducive to helping our economy, they actually are destructive, and that is consistently held across the six countries that expressed their point of view to Secretary Mnuchin,” he added.
In a statement issued by Canada, the G7 finance officials agreed that “decisive action is needed” on the tariff issue at a summit of G7 leaders next week in Charlevoix, Quebec.
Speaking separately after the meeting, frequently referred to as the “G6 plus one,” Mnuchin told reporters he was not part of the summary statement and said Trump was focussed on “rebalancing our trade relationships.”
Mnuchin rejected comments from some G7 officials that the United States was circumventing international trade rules with the tariffs or ceding global economic leadership.
“I don’t think in any way the U.S. is abandoning its leadership in the global economy, quite the contrary. I think that we’ve had a massive effort on tax reform in the United States which has had a incredible impact on the U.S. economy,” Mnuchin said.
The U.S. Treasury chief said he has already relayed some of the G7 comments to Trump and added that the U.S. president would address trade issues with other G7 leaders, but declined to speculate on any outcomes.
Trump on Saturday took to Twitter to complain about the higher tariffs charged by some U.S. trading partners under World Trade Organization agreements.
“The United States must, at long last, be treated fairly on Trade. If we charge a country ZERO to sell their goods, and they charge us 25, 50 or even 100 percent to sell ours, it is UNFAIR and can no longer be tolerated. That is not Free or Fair Trade, it is Stupid Trade!”
All six of the other G7 countries are paying the tariffs, which are largely aimed at curbing excess production in China. Exemptions expired for Canada, Mexico and EU countries on Friday, while Japanese metals producers have been paying the levies since March 23.
Canada and Mexico, which are embroiled in talks with the United States to update the North American Free Trade Agreement, responded to the U.S. move by announcing levies of their own on a variety of American exports.
The EU is set to retaliate with tariffs on a range of U.S. goods from Harley-Davidson <HOG.N> motorcycles to blue jeans and bourbon whiskey.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the United States has only a few days to avoid sparking a trade war with its allies and it is up to Washington to make a move to de-escalate tensions over tariffs.
Speaking after the meeting, Le Maire said the EU was poised to take counter-measures against the new U.S. tariffs.
Some officials at the meeting said the tariffs made it harder for the group to work together to confront China over its trade practices. Mnuchin disagreed, saying there was support for dealing with China’s joint venture requirements, technology transfer efforts and other policies.
German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said G7 countries also told Mnuchin about their opposition to new U.S. sanctions on Iran, which will affect European companies. Trump announced last month that he was pulling the United States out of an international nuclear agreement with Tehran.
“There were several issues discussed at the G7 over which there was no agreement,” Scholz told reporters. “That’s really quite unusual in the history of the G7.”
The meeting of top economic policymakers was seen as a prelude to the trade disputes that will dominate the two-day G7 summit that begins on Friday in Quebec.
(Additional reporting by Andrea Hopkins, David Milliken, Gernot Heller, Leika Kihara and Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Paul Simao)