It may be too late for a grace­ful exit from this trade war

Trump and Trudeau in a bit­ter con­flict and nei­ther side is show­ing flex­i­bil­ity

The Welland Tribune - - Opinion - CHRISTO­PHER SANDS Christo­pher Sands is se­nior re­search pro­fes­sor and di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Cana­dian Stud­ies at the Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity School of Ad­vanced In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies in Washington, D.C. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @sand­sathop­kins

In French Ex­is­ten­tial­ist Jean-Paul Sartre’s book No Exit the philoso­pher’s punch­line is, “Hell is other peo­ple.” Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau is not as well read in phi­los­o­phy as his fa­ther was, but af­ter the G7 Sum­mit in Charlevoix, Que., this week­end, he can al­most cer­tainly re­late.

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump came to Que­bec spoil­ing for a fight. The pre­vi­ous week, he an­nounced that the tem­po­rary ex­emp­tions from puni­tive steel and alu­minum tar­iffs that he had given to Canada, the coun­tries of the Euro­pean Union, Ja­pan and Mex­ico would not be re­newed. Trump had also launched a process to im­pose a 25 per cent tar­iff on all ve­hi­cles im­ported into the United States.

Mean­while, the rene­go­ti­a­tion of the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment (NAFTA) has not been go­ing well. Trump re­fused a call from Trudeau un­less Trudeau first agreed to the U.S. de­mand for a five-year sun­set clause in a new NAFTA agree­ment. Had Trudeau agreed, that might have been the most ex­pen­sive call in Cana­dian his­tory.

Like an Agatha Christie mur­der mys­tery, all of the G7 lead­ers gath­er­ing in Charlevoix had a mo­tive to con­front Trump. Yet Trump’s vol­canic tem­per was di­rected at one leader in par­tic­u­lar: Trudeau.

Trump’s anger with Trudeau has been build­ing for some time. In Fe­bru­ary, Trump com­plained that Canada was “very smooth” on trade. This wasn’t a com­pli­ment; Trump was con­vey­ing his frus­tra­tion that Mem­bers of Congress and state gov­er­nors were quot­ing Cana­dian ar­gu­ments and trade data back to him. Trump prides him­self on his abil­ity to read the pub­lic mood. Canada’s un­prece­dented, ev­i­dence-based out­reach to U.S. lead­ers and busi­nesses was show­ing Canada could do the same.

Then last month, Trump vented that Canada was “very spoiled” and “very dif­fi­cult” on trade. It was the kind of thing you’d say about a cranky child, not a fel­low world leader.

Then last week, Trudeau ap­peared on NBC’s Sun­day pub­lic af­fairs pro­gram Meet the Press with Chuck Todd, a long­time critic of Trump’s. On the pro­gram, Trudeau called Trump’s use of sec­tion 232 of the U.S. Trade Act of 1962 to im­pose steel, alu­minum and even au­to­mo­tive tar­iffs on Canada un­der the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion that they were nec­es­sary for U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity, “in­sult­ing and un­ac­cept­able.”

If Trump didn’t ap­pre­ci­ate this push back from Trudeau on a do­mes­tic U.S. broad­cast pop­u­lar with es­tab­lish­ment Repub­li­cans and Democrats, he has only him­self to blame. And not just be­cause of his most re­cent tar­iff threats.

No one ex­pected a re­peat of the “bromance” Trudeau has with for­mer U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama af­ter Trump was elected as Obama’s suc­ces­sor. Trudeau and his team made a con­scious de­ci­sion to im­pose mes­sage dis­ci­pline on the Lib­eral cau­cus and main­tain a firm but friendly ap­proach to the United States. Per­sonal re­la­tion­ships were cul­ti­vated within the Trump White House, with Trudeau him­self work­ing on a per­sonal rap­port with the pres­i­dent.

Af­ter the first 500 days of what the White House is pro­mot­ing as “Amer­i­can Great­ness,” what has Trudeau got to show for his per­sis­tent out­reach to Trump? Cana­di­ans are pay­ing soft­wood tar­iffs, pay­ing the price of NAFTA un­cer­tainty with no end in sight, and now be­ing threat­ened with even more tar­iffs. This ex­plains why Trudeau and his govern­ment have been shift­ing their ap­proach to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, push­ing back against crit­i­cisms of Canada.

Trump has clearly no­ticed the change in tone from Canada and re­acted with hos­til­ity. But for once Trump’s sense of tim­ing may be off: it may now be too late for es­ca­lat­ing threats to force Trudeau to re­treat, or to an­swer Trump’s blus­ter with Cana­dian nice­ness.

Trudeau can no longer back down to Trump’s bul­ly­ing, even if he was in­clined to do so. As a re­sult, Trump’s ill-timed per­son­al­iza­tion of trade dis­putes with Canada and his staffers per­sonal name call­ing in re­cent days will not work, if they ever might have.

This is the rea­son that Canada-U. S. re­la­tions are in the worst shape in my life­time. Trump and Trudeau are locked in a bit­ter con­flict and nei­ther side is show­ing much flex­i­bil­ity. In­stead they seem ready to give one an­other hell.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.