WASHINGTON—A leaked transcript of a Donald Trump phone call shows the president’s private comments about trade with Canada, and suggests he had an overwhelmingly positive attitude about the northern neighbour as he entered office.
The purported remarks made in a private phone call from late January are every bit as flattering as the president’s remarks a few weeks later when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the White House.
They came in a call with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, and were part of a leaked transcript that was published Aug. 3 by the Washington Post. The context for the exchange was Trump’s bitter and escalating feud with Mexico at the time.
U.S.-Mexico had just reached their nadir over the proposed border wall, and who would pay for it. Pena Nieto cancelled a trip to Washington. In the call, Trump told the Mexican president that he got huge crowds during the campaign, promising throngs of 25,000 to 50,000 people that Mexico would pay for the wall.
Pena Nieto supposedly encouraged a more positive discussion: He urged Trump to focus on the fact that the three NAFTA countries could negotiate a new trade framework. That prompted a rejoinder from Trump.
“Canada is no problem,” Trump replied, according to the leaked transcript.
“Do not worry about Canada, do not even think about them. That is a separate thing and they are fine and we have had a very fair relationship with Canada. It has been much more balanced and much more fair. So we do not have to worry about Canada, we do not even think about them.”
Those remarks echo public comments he made a few days later at a news conference with Trudeau. His rhetoric has ebbed and flowed since then. Trump has complained about Canadian dairy and lumber policies, and often threatens to scrap NAFTA barring a new deal.
The reality entering trade talks is a bit more mundane.
The U.S. has posted its priorities for the NAFTA negotiations starting Aug. 16, and they lie somewhere between the two extremes of the everything-is-fine attitude in that January phone call and the more aggressive talk favoured by some Trump advisers and occasionally the president himself.
The U.S. positions include a laundry list of traditional American demands when it comes to Canadian trade. Most of the U.S. NAFTA demands could be found on annual lists published by the U.S. government, year after year.
Those demands include more access for U.S. dairy and wine on Canadian store shelves; freer trade in telecommunications and banking; stricter patent rules for drugs; and tax cuts for online shopping of imported U.S. goods.
Other priorities dear to the Trump administration include changes to auto-parts rules and the dispute-settlement process.