U.S. threat­ens auto tar­iffs against Canada if trade talks fail

Times Colonist - - Canada / World -

OT­TAWA — U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump launched a fresh au­to­tar­iff threat against Canada late Fri­day at a time when Ot­tawa finds it­self in a hold­ing pat­tern on NAFTA ne­go­ti­a­tions as it awaits the com­ple­tion of one-on-one talks between the United States and Mex­ico.

In a tweet that ap­peared to ref­er­ence NAFTA’s rene­go­ti­a­tion, the U.S. pres­i­dent said the “deal with Mex­ico is com­ing along nicely” and that “Canada must wait.”

Trump then sent a warn­ing to Ot­tawa: “Their Tar­iffs and Trade Bar­ri­ers are far too high. Will tax cars if we can’t make a deal!”

But a spokesman for For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land said Ot­tawa won’t change course in re­sponse to the pres­i­dent’s mes­sage.

“Our fo­cus is un­changed,” Adam Austen wrote in an email. “We’ll keep stand­ing up for Cana­dian in­ter­ests as we work to­ward a mod­ern­ized tri­lat­eral NAFTA agree­ment.”

Bi­lat­eral NAFTA ne­go­ti­a­tions between the U.S. and Mex­ico have been build­ing mo­men­tum in re­cent weeks af­ter tak­ing a break in late May ahead of Mex­ico’s July pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. The one-onone talks are ex­pected to ex­tend into next week.

Canada, how­ever, has yet to re­turn to the NAFTA table this sum­mer.

Some ob­servers have raised con­cerns about Canada’s ab­sence from re­cent high-level ne­go­ti­a­tions on the three-coun­try trade deal. There have been warn­ings Canada could be put in a po­si­tion where it might have to ac­cept a deal reached between the U.S. and Mex­ico.

But Cana­dian of­fi­cials have in­sisted Ot­tawa hasn’t been side­lined dur­ing the U.S.-Mex­ico dis­cus­sions, ar­gu­ing there have been lots of bi­lat­eral talks between NAFTA part­ners dur­ing the year­long rene­go­ti­a­tion process.

To com­pli­cate mat­ters, the al­ready rocky Canada-U.S. re­la­tion­ship has de­te­ri­o­rated since the part­ners sus­pended talks in the spring.

Trump slapped Canada and other al­lies with steel and alu­minum du­ties, which led to re­tal­ia­tory levies from Ot­tawa. He has also made re­peated threats to ap­ply far more dam­ag­ing tar­iffs on the deeply in­te­grated au­to­mo­tive sec­tor. And in June, Trump called Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau “very dis­hon­est and weak” shortly af­ter he left the G7 meet­ing in Que­bec.

On Fri­day, his crit­i­cal tweet about Canada made a point of prais­ing Mex­ico’s pres­i­dent-elect An­dres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

“New Pres­i­dent of Mex­ico has been an ab­so­lute gen­tle­man,” tweeted Trump, who also wrote that au­towork­ers and farm­ers “must be taken care of or there will be no deal.”

Ear­lier Fri­day, a source fa­mil­iar with Ot­tawa’s NAFTA ef­fort said Cana­dian ne­go­tia­tors would not be re­turn­ing to the bar­gain­ing table in Wash­ing­ton un­til the U.S. and Mex­ico find com­mon ground on their out­stand­ing is­sues, es­pe­cially the com­plex stick­ing points around the auto sec­tor.

If the U.S. and Mex­ico can re­solve their bi­lat­eral dif­fer­ences in the com­ing days, the source said it’s “very pos­si­ble” Canada’s team — po­ten­tially in­clud­ing Free­land — could re­join ne­go­ti­a­tions later in the week.

Me­dia re­ports said Fri­day’s NAFTA dis­cus­sions between U.S. Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Robert Lighthizer and Mex­i­can Econ­omy Min­is­ter Ilde­fonso Gua­jardo ended with bi­lat­eral work still to be done. On his way out of the meet­ing, re­ports said Gua­jardo in­di­cated the two sides have made progress and will meet again next week to con­tinue their talks for a fourth straight week.

“We con­tinue to be in the same po­si­tion where Mex­ico and the U.S. need to con­tinue to work out their is­sues,” said the Cana­dian source, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they weren’t au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly.

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