No more Mr. Nice Trump

U.S. pres­i­dent goes af­ter Canada on wood, dairy, lum­ber

The Intelligencer (Belleville) - - NATIONAL - ALEXAN­DER PANETTA

WASH­ING­TON — Ever since Don­ald Trump was elected last fall, Canada’s gov­ern­ment has been cling­ing to a strat­egy of low-drama, un­der-the-radar con­ver­sa­tions about trade that keep in­vestors calm in the choppy wa­ters of a NAFTA rene­go­ti­a­tion.

The U.S. pres­i­dent has stopped co-op­er­at­ing.

Trump de­liv­ered his strong­est-ever broad­side at Amer­ica’s north­ern neigh­bour Thurs­day, pil­ing atop his com­plaints ear­lier in the week about Cana­dian dairy and adding fresh gripes for good mea­sure — this time about en­ergy and lum­ber.

“We can’t let Canada or any­body else take ad­van­tage and do what they did to our work­ers and to our farmers,” Trump said in the Oval Of­fice.

“In­cluded in there is lum­ber, tim­ber and en­ergy. We’re go­ing to have to get to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble with Canada very, very quickly.”

This is the same pres­i­dent who re­cently played down ir­ri­tants with Canada — he said he just wanted to do a lit­tle trade tweak­ing. Sud­denly, he’s tweak­ing Canada’s nose — twice in a week, with his sec­ond twist even more force­ful than the first.

Cana­di­ans will soon learn whether it’s just pre-ne­go­ti­a­tion blus­ter or a har­bin­ger of hard­ball: Trump promised more details within a cou­ple of weeks about his gov­ern­ment’s plans for the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment, with dis­cus­sions likely to start later this year.

He pro­vided no ra­tio­nale for his com­plaints.

On en­ergy, Canada pro­vides the U.S. more than one-third of its oil im­ports — and does so un­der a sta­ble, locked-in ra­tio guar­an­teed in NAFTA. On lum­ber, cheaper Cana­dian wood has re­duced the cost of U.S. homes but also caused re­cur­ring le­gal spats with the U.S. in­dus­try that al­leges prod­uct-dump­ing.

On dairy, he of­fered a scin­tilla of de­tail.

Trump made it ob­vi­ous his com­plaints from ear­lier this week in Wis­con­sin were specif­i­cally about re­cent rule changes on milk clas­si­fi­ca­tion, not on the longer-term is­sue of Canada’s sup­ply-man­age­ment sys­tem.

“Canada, what they’ve done to our dairy farm work­ers, is a dis­grace. It’s a dis­grace,” he said. “Rules, reg­u­la­tions, dif­fer­ent things have changed — and our farmers in Wis­con­sin and New York state are be­ing put out of busi­ness.”

It was a far cry from the tune Trump was singing in Fe­bru­ary.

Af­ter meet­ing Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, he lauded the bi­lat­eral trade re­la­tion­ship, say­ing it re­quired only tweak­ing. He told peo­ple he was pleased with the meet­ing, and even gave Trudeau a friendly shout-out in his prime­time speech to Congress.

In an in­ter­view Thurs­day with Bloomberg, the prime min­is­ter sounded re­signed to a fu­ture filled with pres­i­den­tial mood swings.

Asked about Trump’s re­marks ear­lier in the week about dairy, Trudeau ac­knowl­edged the like­li­hood that the mes­sage from the White House might oc­ca­sion­ally switch from one day to the next.

In­deed, he ac­tu­ally cast the topsy-turvy mes­sag­ing as a pos­i­tive thing. He called it an op­por­tu­nity — a sign the pres­i­dent lis­tens to the peo­ple he speaks with, and keeps an open mind to chang­ing his views.

“(Trump is) a lit­tle bit un­like many politi­cians,” the prime min­is­ter said, ac­knowl­edg­ing the mag­ni­tude of his un­der­state­ment amid laugh­ter from the crowd.

“As politi­cians we’re very much trained to say some­thing and stick with it. Whereas he has shown if he says one thing and then ac­tu­ally hears good counter-ar­gu­ments or good rea­sons why he should shift his po­si­tion, he will take a dif­fer­ent po­si­tion if it’s a bet­ter one, if the ar­gu­ments win him over.

“I think there’s a chal­lenge in that for elec­tors, but there’s also an op­por­tu­nity in that for peo­ple who en­gage with him.”

Canada has am­ple rea­sons to en­gage.

U.S. pol­icy-mak­ers have de­ci­sions to make that will af­fect the north­ern neigh­bour on mul­ti­ple fronts in­clud­ing: NAFTA, soft­wood lum­ber, the pos­si­bil­ity of a U.S. im­port tax, and Buy Amer­i­can rules.

Al­ready the un­cer­tainty has caused some busi­nesses to pause in­vest­ments in Canada, ac­cord­ing to the Bank of Canada.

In an ef­fort to soothe those con­cerns, the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment re­peat­edly por­trays NAFTA ne­go­ti­a­tions as no big deal, just an­other ad­just­ment to an agree­ment ad­justed sev­eral times al­ready.

While Trump’s “Amer­ica First” at­ti­tude has yet to show up in any suc­cess­ful leg­is­la­tion, it has ap­peared in nu­mer­ous ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions, in­clud­ing the or­der he was sign­ing in his of­fice Thurs­day as he com­plained about Canada.

That or­der sets a time­line for his ad­min­is­tra­tion to study pos­si­ble tar­iffs on for­eign steel. Iron­i­cally, one of Trump’s guests in his of­fice for the sign­ing cer­e­mony was the head of the United Steel­work­ers union — Leo Ger­ard, a Cana­dian, born in Sud­bury, Ont.

Trump’s gripes about Canada came at the end of his re­marks about steel. He pref­aced them by say­ing, “I wasn’t go­ing to do this,” then launched into com­plaints about Cana­dian dairy, wood, and en­ergy and its im­pact on the U.S.

MARK WIL­SON/GETTY IMAGES

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump holds up an Ex­ec­u­tive Me­moran­dum on the investigation of steel im­ports, af­ter sign­ing it in the Oval Of­fice at the White House, on Thurs­day. Trump took aim at Canada for trade prac­tices re­lat­ing to lum­ber, dairy and en­ergy.

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