United States President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Angela Merkel leave a G7 leaders photo following the signing of the G7 Taormina Statement on the Fight Against Terrorism and Violent Extremism at the G7 Summit in Taormina, Italy on Friday, May 26, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

G7 agrees on terrorism, but little else

TAORMINA, Italy — Donald Trump and his six fellow G7 leaders, who seemed to take up a lot less space next to the larger-than-life U.S. president, agreed Friday to do more to counter violent extremism, but remained far apart on issues like climate change and free trade.

A statement, separate from the not-yet-complete final communique, said that while the G7 is already committed to the fight against terrorism, Monday’s deadly attack in Manchester has driven home the need to step up efforts — and quickly.

“We will bring the fight against terrorism to a higher level by relentlessly preventing, investigating and prosecuting terrorist acts, their perpetrators and supporters,” said the text of a joint statement issued in the medieval Sicilian town of Taormina.

“Our shared system of values and norms, respect for human rights and cultural diversity, the promotion of fundamental freedoms and the principles on which our societies are built will remain a beacon for our common action and the first and best defence against this common threat.”

To that end, the leaders promised measures that included countering online terrorist propaganda and recruitment, better intelligence-sharing to confront the threat of foreign fighters, increased co-operation among border agencies and working on social inclusion as a way to prevent radicalization.

There was, however, a long way to go before the leaders could arrive at a happy consensus on other issues.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went into the meeting intending to champion the benefits of free trade and action on climate change at the summit, even with Trump trying ever harder to steer the world in a different direction.

“There are clearly some areas where the Canadian position may not be universally embraced,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

A Canadian government official with knowledge of the negotiations said sticking points like international trade and the Paris agreement on climate change, which Trump has promised to abandon, would likely keep talks going through the night.

That, it turned out, was an understatement.

While Canada, Italy, Germany, France, Britain and Japan confirmed their commitment to the Paris agreement, Trump — who promised during the campaign to abandon the accord — had not yet made up his mind, said Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

“He said, ‘I would rather take my time and understand the issues and then get to the right decision on that,’” said chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn.

Trump doesn’t want anyone to think he does not care about the environment, Cohn added: “His views are evolving. He came here to learn and get smarter.”

And on trade, Trump was caught having stoked a contentious fire, as the German news magazine Der Spiegel reported the president had told leaders of the EU before the summit began that the Germans were “bad” for having a large trade surplus with the United States.

Cohn sought to clarify the situation by explaining that Trump had noted, “I don’t have a problem with Germany. I have a problem with German trade.”

Trudeau, meanwhile, was described by his foreign affairs minister as seeking common ground among the seven leaders, while standing firmly behind Canada’s positions.

“We’re always going to be clear at these meetings that climate change is a hugely important issue,” Freeland said. ”It’s hugely important for Canadians, and we are proud to be taking a strong stand at home, a strong stand around the world on this issue.”

The same thing goes for free trade, she added.

“Canada believes very strongly in a rules-based international trading order. We’re a trading nation and we’re always going to stand up for that.”

Trudeau, who met briefly Friday with British Prime Minister Theresa May, also has a face-to-face with Trump scheduled for Saturday.

The Liberal government had been hoping to secure a meeting in order to continue to press its case on the North American Free Trade Agreement and other big cross-border issues.

Trudeau is expecting to find an ally on free trade, climate change and other so-called progressive issues in Macron, the newly elected French president with whom he had a bilateral meeting Friday.

Macron highlighted their shared relative youth as he spoke of how they can deal with shifting alliances and political upheaval around the globe.

“In a world with more and more imbalance, uncertainty and fascination for authoritarian regimes, where our values are sometimes threatened, the history of our countries should be defended — our values,” Macron said during the public portion of their meeting.

“It’s the responsibility of our generation.”

Canada will be hosting the G7 summit next year and an official says Trudeau is expected to make inclusive growth and gender equality the major themes of the gathering, which will take place at a remote luxury resort in the Charlevoix region of Quebec.

— Follow @smithjoanna on Twitter

Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press

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