News Bamboozled in Biarritz: Morrison stumbles on trade war and Iran at G7

Bamboozled in Biarritz: Morrison stumbles on trade war and Iran at G7

This is the first time Australia has been invited to the economic forum known as the G7.
This is the first time Australia has been invited to the economic forum known as the G7. Photo: AAP
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Scott Morrison’s seat at the G7 summit in the French city of Biarritz gave him a ringside view at the unravelling of world economic stability.

The star pugilist was United States President Donald Trump; he rejected pleas and proddings that he move to end his trade war with his superpower rival China.

Efforts by the summit’s host French President Emmanuel Macron to defuse the other Trump-instigated crisis with Iran and the world’s oil supplies also came to nothing.

None of this made it an easy meeting for the Australian Prime Minister.

Mr Morrison tried to quarantine Australia’s national interest from the chaos caused by the American leader, who was as erratic as ever in his public performances at the meeting.

The worsening trade war that has sent stocks plummeting in bourses all over the world including Australia, was discussed in the Morrison Trump “pull-aside”.

The Morrison message was that Australia would like to see the dispute settled “sooner rather than later” but to reporters later the Prime Minister was extremely careful not to apportion blame.

The trade was was discussed in the was discussed in the Morrison Trump “pull aside.”
The trade was discussed in the, Morrison Trump “pull-aside”. Photo: Getty

He said while the US has raised a number of issues so too has China.

Australia’s pleas for a return at least to the path for freer trade was courageously supported by Mr Trump’s new best friend, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Mr Johnson was so bold as to contradict Mr Trump to his face and in front of the cameras on the president’s claim that he had come under no pressure at the summit to ease up on tariffs.

“But just to register a faint sheep-like note of our view on the trade war: We’re in favour of trade peace on the whole, and dialling it down if we can,” Mr Johnson said.

Australia’s Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe at a meeting of central banks in the US over the weekend had this chilling perspective: “We are experiencing a period of major political shocks …political shocks are turning into economic shocks.”

Sending shudders through the summit, the White House quickly clarified that when the US President admitted to second thoughts about the trade war he was merely regretting the had not gone in harder.

Mr Morrison’s attempt to walk both sides of the street on the trade war is the only policy the government is game enough to have with our biggest customer at loggerheads with our biggest strategic ally.

The contortions this forces Canberra into were also on display at Biarritz.

Mr Morrison felt it was necessary to explain to Germany’s Angela Merkel and Japan’s Shinzo Abe why he had acquiesced to Mr Trump’s arm twisting to join the US with a naval presence policing the critical Strait of Hormuz.

It’s all about protecting freedom of navigation and the $3.2 billion worth of refined and crude oil that comes through the strait to Australia from Iran.

The Prime Minister assured the other leaders he supports the Obama-era deal to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Australia was not part of Mr Trump’s maximum campaign of pressure on Iran.

So far, apart from the United Kingdom, none of the other European leaders are convinced warships are the way to de-escalate tensions in the region.

President Macron is opting for diplomacy, though he embarrassed the US President by also inviting Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif as an observer at the summit.

When asked about that Mr Morrison headed for the hills. He said he hadn’t “really reflected on it or offering any comment at all”.

Refusing to answer hard questions worked for the Prime Minister in the election campaign, but at least there he knew what he was up to.

Now it appears he’s bamboozled by it all.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics

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