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, suggesting that the trade imbalance between the United States and those countries would make tariff increases more destructive for their economies.
Mr. Trump’s surprise proposal for a tariff-free Group of 7 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.
Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, hailed the idea of a tariff-free zone and said Saturday that he would “happily carry his bag to every single meeting of those negotiations.” But, he said, “The path to more trade begins with less whining on the global stage.”
In talks over a formal communiqué to be issued Saturday by the seven nations, the official said, the American delegation objected to including the phrase “rules-based international order,” which has been used in past statements. Instead, the negotiators came up with what the official called compromise language that the United States could sign onto. Other areas of dispute were papered over by noting that not all members agreed with certain positions.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Mr. Trump repeatedly insisted that the private discussions with his counterparts — whom he referred to casually, as “Justin” or “Angela” — had been positive.