Ahead of the G-20 summit, Japan and the European Union are expected to announce a trade deal on Thursday in yet another sign that President Donald Trump’s “America First” approach to trade and policy isn’t paying off.
Creating a free trade area the size of North America, the deal will greatly expand global trade. Expected to lower barriers to the exportation of cars between Japan and the European bloc, the agreement will also reportedly allow for the import of trains and agricultural products to Japan specifically.
It’s a trade victory for both parties — but it’s also a snub.
Trump pushed for isolationism and protectionism as a candidate; as president, he has withdrawn the United States from major trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as well as from hard-won global efforts like the Paris climate agreement. Allies initially expressed alarm over these abrupt pivots. But now, experts argue agreements like the pending E.U.-Japan deal are a sign that countries are moving on to simply make deals with each other, rather than with the United States.
“There was a question mark there, as to whether or not the E.U. would be able to continue signing free trade agreements in the future,” André Sapir, an international trade expert and a former economic adviser to the European Union’s Director General for Economic and Financial Affairs, told the Washington Post. “Going into the G20, it’s demonstrating that indeed the E.U. and Japan want to continue to have a liberal trade agenda and show that there are other countries able to pursue this agenda without the United States.”
Leaving the United States behind is likely to be a major theme when the G-20, which is comprised of 20 major global economies, meets on Friday in Hamburg, Germany. At the summit, Trump will be interacting with a number of controversial leaders, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin, two authoritarian leaders who have received praise from the U.S. president. But he will also be meeting with a number of figures representing countries where he is deeply unpopular — not least of all the one hosting the summit.
Trump made headlines in May for antagonizing major U.S. allies while on his first international trip, lamenting the failure of countries like Germany and France to pay their “fair share” toward mutual defense. His words had an impact. German Chancellor Angela Merkel lost no time in informing Germans that Europe would need to look elsewhere for support.
“The times in which we could completely depend on others are on the way out. I’ve experienced that in the last few days,” she told a Munich crowd in May, subtly referencing the United States. “We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands.”
It’s a stance she doubled down on last week while addressing the German parliament. “Those who think that the problems of this world can be solved with isolationism or protectionism are terribly wrong,” she said, in a pointed nod to Trump’s approach to foreign policy.
Merkel isn’t alone in her views or her concerns about U.S. policy. Numerous world leaders condemned Trump’s announcement that the United States would be withdrawing from the Paris agreement, including Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and French President Emmanuel Macron, the latter of whom has emphasized his animosity towards the U.S. leader.
However, the exit did offer other countries an opportunity for closer ties. Immediately following the news, China and the European Union announced a joint commitment to fighting climate change. India, another rising global power, also reasserted its commitment to lowering carbon levels, while pursuing greater ties with Europe.
Allies closer to home are also struggling to figure out how to deal with the United States. Canada, historically a major U.S. ally, relies heavily on its southern neighbor, with whom it conducts 70 percent of its national trade. But Trump has threatened to exit the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA — a move that would have severe consequences for the Canadian economy — in addition to taking a very different approach from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on issues ranging from the environment to taking in refugees. Treading carefully, Canada has worked to navigate these differences, going around the U.S. federal government in order to work directly with cities and states, while also serving as a peacemaker between Trump and leaders like Macron and Merkel.
But Canada is far from willing to rely exclusively on Trump’s volatile nature. Trudeau has been actively reaching out to other leaders — in February, the European Parliament ratified the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, expanding trade between Canada and Europe. Similar deals are likely to follow as the country eases away from the United States. Last month, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland delivered a major foreign policy speech emphasizing the changing world order.
“The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership, puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course,” she said. “For Canada that course must be the renewal, indeed the strengthening, of the postwar multilateral order.”
Canada isn’t the only long-time U.S. ally struggling to work with Trump. British Prime Minister Theresa May initially worked to win over her U.S. counterpart, but Trump’s unpopularity in the United Kingdom has hindered her efforts. As of late June, a planned-for trip to the country appeared to be off the table, largely because Trump wanted to avoid protesters. May herself has expressed qualms with Trump’s policy decisions, most notably the Muslim ban — targeting citizens from Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Libya, Yemen, and Syria as well as all refugees — which she has called “divisive and wrong.”
Still, not all countries are shying away from the United States. Trump’s first stop this week will be in Poland, which is led by the right-wing, populist Law and Justice party. Since coming to power in 2015, Poland’s government has rolled back free speech and has attempted to outlaw abortion while waging war on the judiciary, which the party has effectively hijacked. But while Poland has come under censure from a number of European and international organizations, the country is hoping to find a friend in Trump.
In advance of the meeting, party head Jaroslaw Kaczynski argued that other countries had “envy” for Poland, emphasizing the country’s warmth towards the U.S. president.
“We have a new success: Trump’s visit,” Kaczynski said.