Canadian Manufacturing

Canada-U.S. trade not broken—so no need for Trump to fix it, Freeland says

Trade Minister says two countries' trade relationship is balanced, mutually beneficial, but admits Ottawa is taking a wait-and-see approach


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Trump blasted NAFTA throughout the campaign, but has remained mum on the deal since the election. PHOTO: Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia Commons

OTTAWA—Donald Trump has pledged to fix a lot of broken things when he becomes U.S. president.

But Canada’s trade minister says the world-leading trade relationship between Canada and the United States need not be on the president-elect’s to-do list.

“I think the reality is the trading relationship with Canada is the farthest possible thing from being broken. It is very balanced and mutually beneficial,” Chrystia Freeland told The Canadian Press in an interview Dec. 21.

That’s the message she said she has been actively spreading to Republicans and others in Washington during the current presidential transition period.

Freeland visited Washington last week and met with some senior Trump advisers and Republican senators.

She had get-acquainted meetings with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, now a Trump adviser, and Stephen Schwarzman, the CEO of the Blackstone Group investment firm, who was appointed earlier this month to lead the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum.

Trump has said the collection of 16 CEOs and business leaders will provide him private-sector expertise on what it takes to create jobs and drive growth.

Freeland also met with the Republican chairs of two powerful committees—Sen. Pat Roberts of the agriculture committee and Sen. Orrin Hatch of the finance committee.

Freeland reminded them the $2.4 billion a day that crosses the 49th parallel is good for both countries. She hauled out some other well-worn statistics: nine million Americans depend directly on exports to Canada while 35 states have Canada as their top customer.

“Those are some big numbers,” she said. “And that’s a trading relationship and those are jobs that are precisely answering the question—which I think is the core issue for the new U.S. administration and frankly is a core issue for us too—which is middle-class jobs.”

She has also been urging Canadian business leaders with U.S. connections to issue some vocal reminders of their own.

Freeland said the transition period is “a very useful time” for business leaders to be emphasizing the deeply integrated Canada-U.S. economic relationship.

But she said Ottawa is taking a wait-and-see approach with another Trump pledge that could have a major economic impact on Canada—his promise to pull the U.S. out of the lucrative 12-country Pacific Rim trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Japan, the second-largest TPP country, has called on Canada to join it in pushing Trump not to scrap the deal, which would cover 40 per cent of the global economy.

Freeland refused to say whether Canada has taken Japan up on the offer to pressure Trump’s team.

During the fractious U.S. presidential election campaign, Trump also said he would withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement or renegotiate it. But Trump did not repeat the NAFTA commitment after the election as he did with the TPP.

Canada has since said it would renegotiate NAFTA to make it stronger. Freeland said the pact is a “living agreement” that has undergone 12 significant amendments in its 22 years.

She made no attempt to minimize the ongoing effort to reach a new agreement on softwood lumber. Teams of negotiators are meeting this week, but Freeland said she needs a crystal ball to predict whether the two sides can strike a deal by Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration.

The ongoing softwood saga predates Trump’s arrival in politics.

“This is something that we have been quarreling over for decades, even by some people’s count for centuries,” said Freeland.


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