- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 22, 2019

President Trump will use the Group of Seven summit in France this weekend to confront the host country over its decision to unilaterally tax major tech companies, the White House said Thursday, confirming one of several subplots that could roil the meeting of developed nations in glitzy Biarritz.

Officials said Mr. Trump views the levy as “highly discriminatory,” since it would hit U.S. giants such as Google and Facebook hard.

“He’s not going to back down in the face of countries, like France, going after our industry,” a senior administration official told reporters in a preview of the summit.

Mr. Trump departed last year’s G-7 confab early, withdrawing from a group communique and hurling insults at the host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as he jetted off.

French President Emmanuel Macron wants his 2019 edition to go more smoothly, though the digital tax is one of several thorny issues that could boil over at the Hotel du Palais along the Atlantic Coast.



There’s also Mr. Trump’s trade wars, Britain’s attempt to pull off its Brexit from the European Union, tensions in Kashmir and Hong Kong, and the potential reinstatement of Vladimir Putin’s Russia to the club of developed nations that includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S.

And then there’s climate change, a perennial sticking point between Mr. Trump and other world leaders — yet an issue where Mr. Macron wants to see progress.

Tom Bernes, a distinguished fellow at the Center for International Governance Innovation, said Mr. Trump will stand out, one way or another.

“Given his attempt again to include Russia — which has been rejected by the others until Russia responds on the Ukraine — his bizarre offer to buy Greenland and his criticism of Macron and the digital tax,” he said, “Trump is clearly the wild card and once again may play the spoiler by knocking down global cooperation on critical issues.”

The summit will start with a dinner late Saturday, followed by a Sunday morning session the U.S. requested to talk about the global economy and international security, the White House said.

Mr. Trump wants to discuss changes to the World Trade Organization — he has threatened to pull the U.S. out of the organization, saying China games its “developing nation” label — and highlight his agenda of lower taxes, deregulation and energy production. He’ll argue the approach is paying off at home, even as economic growth in Europe remains relatively flat, according to senior administration officials.

Additional sessions will focus on gender inequality, empowering women in the workforce, the climate, biodiversity and the oceans.

It’s the sideline debates, though, that will soak up attention.

Mr. Trump and Japanese Prime Shinzo Abe are still working on a bilateral trade deal — the U.S. leader punted hard work on it until after summer elections in Japan — and Mr. Trump has threatened to place tariffs on European autos.

The president’s tariffs on steel and aluminum led to turmoil at last year’s summit in Quebec.

Mr. Trudeau called the rationale for the tariffs — national security — insulting, prompting Mr. Trump to label the Canadian leader “very dishonest and weak” in tweets from Air Force One.

Mr. Trump also told his representatives not to endorse the joint statement, or “communique,” issued at the end of the summit.

Mr. Macron, hoping to keep bitterness at bay, decided to scrap the communique altogether this year.

“I think it was smart really to just drop that, because that would have done nothing but increase the level of dissension,” said James Roberts, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation who served as a foreign service officer at State Department for 25 years.

He said the G-7 nations can still have a fruitful dialogue on thorny issues.

Senior administration officials said they “know for a fact” that part of that dialogue will focus on France’s digital tax.

French lawmakers passed the 3% tax because they believe tech companies make big profits on their shores, yet duck their fair share of taxes by setting up their headquarters in other, low-tax countries.

Mr. Trump is livid over the levy and has threatened to slap tariffs on French wine in retaliation.

Mr. Roberts said the threat is probably sincere, even if it sounds like a “headline-grabber.”

“It’s a major sector in the French economy,” he said.

Russia is another source of friction. Mr. Trump says Mr. Putin’s nation should be readmitted to the club.

Its participation in what was formerly known as the G-8 was suspended in 2014 after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

Mr. Trump in recent days has said that President Obama wanted Russia out of the club of nations because Mr. Putin “outsmarted” him.

Senior administration officials didn’t say whether Mr. Trump would be the one to bring up the Russia question in Biarritz, though they said it’s likely to “be discussed among the leaders.”

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