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G-7 Leaders Set To Discuss Fires In the Amazon, Fears Of A U.S. Recession


The G-7 summit this weekend comes at a time of crisis in democracy, capitalism and inequality. At least that's how the host, French President Emmanuel Macron, put it. Macron called on summit leaders to put the massive fires in the Amazon at the top of their agenda. The leaders, representing the world's seven major industrial powers, will also be focused on fears of a U.S. recession, especially after today, with trade tensions between the U.S. and China ratcheting up.

NPR's Frank Langfitt is in the French coastal town of Biarritz to cover the event, and he joins us now.

Hey, Frank.


CHANG: So let's just start with the basics here. What is the role of the G-7, and how important is it these days?

LANGFITT: Well, it's this club of leading Western democratic economies plus Japan, like you mentioned. And their job is to try to get together and find consensus on big problems facing the world. But, you know, one of the big problems these days is the G-7 itself. There's so much turmoil in the West - we report on this all the time - populism, nationalism, backlash against globalization, that often, they can't really agree on that much.

And one of the most divisive presence is President Trump. You know, he left the G-7 early last year because he got into a spat with Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister. This year, people are wondering how it's going to go. He'll get here tomorrow.

CHANG: So can you give us some more detail on the issues they're going to be discussing?

LANGFITT: Yeah, I mean, Emmanuel Macron, he posted a photo today on Twitter that a lot of people might have seen of these enormous fires in the Amazon people believe have been set by farmers clearing land. And he wrote our house is burning, and he's urging people to - leaders here to act on that this weekend.

Another big issue is going to be the economy. I mean, today, China announced retaliatory tariffs on about another $75 billion worth of American goods. President Trump fired back, and he put more tariffs on Chinese goods, and he ordered American companies to stop doing business with China, which of course he doesn't have the power to do. But the Dow Jones was down more than 600 points today.

And this just all adds just to the anxiety about the economy these days around the world. We have Brexit coming up at the end of October. That could be a hard Brexit, could do a lot of damage to the U.K. economy. And I was talking to a guy named Stewart Patrick. He's a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank, and this is what he expects this weekend.

STEWART PATRICK: European leaders Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and probably even Boris Johnson will be placing pressure on the president to try to avoid having his trade war with China spiraling out of control. And I think that they will try to persuade him to engage in restraint, particularly at a time of vulnerability of the global economy.

CHANG: Well, what do we think President Trump will be focusing on?

LANGFITT: He's going to be focusing on the economy as well, Alisa. But I think it's going to be a bit different. He seems - first of all, his senior administration sources were saying he's going to tout what he sees as the strength of the U.S. economy and is going to criticize other members rather than addressing sort of these global concerns. For instance, the president is going to challenge - our president, President Trump is going to challenge President Macron on proposed digital services tax that he think could adversely affect American companies. And the approach, frankly, sounds a lot more like an American first than global leadership approach. And Stewart Patrick, that guy from the Council on Foreign Relations...

CHANG: Yeah.

LANGFITT: ...Says that that's generally the lens that the president sees things through.

PATRICK: Donald Trump has a fundamentally revolutionary attitude towards the role of the United States in the world. And it's one in which he doesn't have any trust in formal international organizations. And increasingly, he doesn't really have that much trust in even informal groupings like the G-7.

LANGFITT: Which is pretty inconvenient because the G-7 is gathering here this weekend to sort of grapple with these big problems.

CHANG: Sounds like a very interesting weekend coming up along the French coast.

Thank you so much, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Alisa.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRETTY LIGHTS' "YELLOW BIRD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.