The president’s public comments on trade Saturday echoed the complaints he made directly to the leaders from Canada, Japan and Europe in private sessions on Friday. Mr. Trump confronted several of the leaders individually, giving examples of how, in his view, each of their countries had mistreated the United States, whether it be through trade barriers or security commitments, according to a European official.
The president delivered a running monologue in one of the closed-door meetings, one person familiar with the discussion said. One minute, he slammed Germany for taking advantage of the United States by selling so many cars there. The next, he talked about how his grandfather was German and how much he loved Europe.
Several of the leaders responded aggressively to Mr. Trump’s demands — as they have repeatedly done in public — listing their own complaints about American tariffs and other trade measures, the official said. Several countries have said that they will retaliate against the United States’ new steel and aluminum tariffs with increased tariffs of their own.
“If they retaliate, they’re making a mistake,” Mr. Trump said on Saturday.
Mr. Trump’s surprise proposal for a tariff-free G7 followed from a conversation the president had on Air Force One heading to Canada with Larry Kudlow, his national economic adviser. Mr. Kudlow, a self-described “lifelong free trader,” wrote an op-ed article in The Washington Post on Thursday saying that he did not prefer tariffs but that Mr. Trump’s actions were “a wake-up call to the dangers of a broken trading system that is increasingly unfree.”
Mr. Trump and Mr. Kudlow discussed the article on the plane, but the president surprised even his own team by raising the idea with the other leaders. While some observers took it as more of a talking point, a senior administration official said the president was serious about it and wanted it given serious study. Other leaders, the official said, expressed interest.
The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe closed-door discussions.
Asked late Saturday what he told Mr. Trump about the surprise proposal for a tariff-free zone, Mr. Macron said, with a smile: “Be my guest, if that’s your wish.”
Throughout his remarks on Saturday, Mr. Trump repeatedly returned to his broader complaints about trade practices around the world, insisting that it was the fault of past American leaders who had agreed to deals that benefited other countries more than the United States.