KTEP - El Paso, Texas

Canadian Prime Minister Talks Trade, Immigration In First Meeting With Trump

Feb 13, 2017
Originally published on February 13, 2017 1:18 pm

President Trump has gotten off to a rocky start with one NAFTA partner — Mexico. On Monday, he turns to the other partner, Canada, when he hosts Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the White House.

Hundreds of billions of dollars of trade pass between Canada and the U.S. each year, $540 billion in 2015 alone. Yet Trump has called NAFTA the worst trade deal ever and is threatening to rip up or at least renegotiate it.

Mark Manger, an associate professor at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs, says NAFTA is not as contentious an issue in Canada as in the U.S. He says the trade deal has helped provide a lot of jobs, many in the auto industry, and that Canadians worry about what Trump has in mind.

"There's a very genuine fear in Canada, and I think Canadian auto workers in particular are very worried about it. We're talking about over 100,000 jobs here in Canada that are essentially in the auto industry," he says.

Ford, Chrysler and GM are among the U.S. automakers that provide jobs in Canada.

Barry Campbell, a former member of parliament now running the Toronto communications firm of Campbell Strategies, says so far, Canada has managed to stay under the radar of Trump's ire over NAFTA.

"Canada has not been in the crosshairs, we've not had a target on our back," he says. "The anti-trade rhetoric has been directed first and foremost at Mexico."

Canada has had a strong trade relationship with the U.S. since long before NAFTA took effect in 1994. Campbell says three-quarters of Canada's exports go to the U.S. and 35 states count Canada as their leading export market.

"Our two-way trade is roughly in balance, unlike U.S.-Mexico trade, so that argues in favor of leaving things the way they are," he says.

But there's uncertainty about whether Trump will want to leave things the way they are. A major concern is whether the U.S. will impose tariffs, which could spark a trade war.

To try and get ahead of any possible conflicts, the Canadian government has gone on a charm offensive, sending senior Cabinet members to Washington for meetings even before Monday's visit by Trudeau.

Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland told reporters last week that discussions have included a possible new border adjustment tax on imports going into the U.S. She said she found there are many contrasting points of view about that idea.

"I came away from those conversations with an appreciation of the extent to which the political debate in the United States ... is only beginning," she said.

Still, Freeland said she warned U.S. officials that Ottawa strongly opposes any new tariffs, which she said would be mutually harmful.

There's concern that Canada may get swept up in any disagreement or trade war between the U.S. and Mexico. Canada's ambassador, David MacNaughton, is on record saying Canada needs to avoid becoming "collateral damage."

Campbell, the former lawmaker, says in no way should Ottawa be seen as abandoning Mexico — with which it has limited trade — but Canada needs to protect its interests.

"I think you have to plan for the reality you're dealing with," he says. "We have to balance outreach and engagement with this administration with protecting our own sovereign interests."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Donald Trump, today, is playing host to Canada's prime minister, Justin Trudeau. Canada is America's second-biggest trading partner. Hundreds of billions of dollars in trade across the border every year. But as NPR's Jackie Northam reports from Toronto, President Trump's tough talk about the future of NAFTA is raising some deep concerns up north.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: A bitterly cold wind blowing in off Lake Ontario doesn't deter skaters zipping around an ice rink outside Toronto City Hall. A different type of chill is coming in from the south. It's from President Trump, who has called NAFTA the worst trade deal ever and is threatening to rip up - or at least renegotiate it.

MARK MANGER: There is a very genuine fear here in Canada, and I think that - and Canadian autoworkers, in particular, are very worried about that.

NORTHAM: That's Canadian political scientist Mark Manger at the University of Toronto. He says NAFTA is not as contentious an issue in Canada as in the U.S. It's helped provide a lot of jobs, many in the auto industry.

MANGER: We're talking about over 100,000 jobs here in Canada that are essentially in the auto industry.

NORTHAM: And Canada wants to protect them. The policy seems to be lie low. Because, as former member of Parliament Barry Campbell explains...

BARRY CAMPBELL: Canada has not been in the crosshairs. We've not had a target on our back. The anti-trade rhetoric has been directed, first and foremost, at Mexico.

NORTHAM: Canada and the U.S. have had a trade relationship since long before NAFTA went into effect in 1994. And that trade is robust. It topped half a trillion dollars in 2015. Campbell says three-quarters of Canada's exports go to the U.S., and 35 states count Canada as their leading export market.

CAMPBELL: Our two-way trade is roughly in balance, unlike U.S.-Mexico trade. So that argues in favor of leaving things the way they are.

NORTHAM: There's uncertainty whether Trump will want to leave things the way they are. A major concern is whether the U.S. will impose tariffs, which could spark a trade war. To try and get ahead of any possible conflicts, the Canadian government has gone on a charm offensive, sending senior Cabinet members to Washington for meetings even before today's visit by Prime Minister Trudeau. Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland briefed reporters in a teleconference on her meetings.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CHRYSTIA FREELAND: I came away from those conversations with an appreciation of the extent to which the political debate in the United States is only beginning.

NORTHAM: Still, Freeland said she warned U.S. officials that Ottawa strongly opposes any new tariffs, which she said would be mutually harmful. There's concern that Canada may get swept up in any disagreement or trade war between the U.S. and Mexico. Canada's ambassador to the U.S., David MacNaughton, is on record saying Canada needs to avoid becoming, quote, "collateral damage."

Former MP Barry Campbell says in no way should Ottawa be seen as abandoning Mexico. But...

CAMPBELL: I think you have to plan for the reality that you're dealing with. We have to balance outreach and engagement with this administration with protecting our own sovereign interests.

NORTHAM: A point which Prime Minister Trudeau is likely to drive home during his meeting with President Trump today.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Toronto.

(SOUNDBITE OF PORTICO QUARTET'S "RUINS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.