De­spite blows, CANADA has U.S. friends in trade war

TRADE WAR Mo­tions passed, but will likely have lit­tle ef­fect

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FRONT PAGE - Tom Black­well

WASH­ING­TON, D.C. • War can be hell, even a trade war.

The blows aimed at Canada from south of the bor­der have come fast and fu­ri­ous lately, with the U.S. slap­ping hefty tar­iffs on ex­ports rang­ing from steel to newsprint, de­mand­ing to rip up NAFTA and even of­fer­ing nasty words for the prime min­is­ter.

Amid the at­tacks and reprisals, there is some so­lace for Canada: a sub­stan­tial chunk of the Wash­ing­ton, D.C., po­lit­i­cal class that has, in ef­fect, taken this coun­try’s side in var­i­ous trade skir­mishes. As the White House fires salvos at Canada, some law­mak­ers, even mem­bers of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s Repub­li­can party, have acted al­most like a wartime fifth col­umn within the Wash­ing­ton belt­way.

The ques­tion now is whether even they will have any im­pact on the pres­i­dent’s agenda.

On Wed­nes­day, sen­a­tors voted 88-11 in favour of a non-bind­ing mo­tion that calls for Congress to have a greater say in the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s use of “na­tion­alse­cu­rity” tar­iffs, like those on steel and alu­minum.

“Let’s be clear, this is a re­buke of the pres­i­dent’s abuse of trade au­thor­ity,” said Repub­li­can Sen. Jeff Flake, a vo­cal Trump critic. “Can you imag­ine be­ing Canada and be­ing told your steel and alu­minum ex­ports to the United States (are) a na­tional se­cu­rity threat?”

Down the hall in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, sev­eral mem­bers in­tro­duced a bill Wed­nes­day that would re­quire the pres­i­dent to get con­gres­sional ap­proval for na­tional-se­cu­rity tar­iffs, while the house’s trade sub­com­mit­tee an­nounced a hear­ing next week into the trade war’s toll on agri­cul­ture.

Pro­duc­ers are be­ing “sig­nif­i­cantly hurt” by tar­iffs on im­ports they need, and face “se­vere” ef­fects from re­tal­ia­tory mea­sures taken by Canada and other na­tions, said sub­com­mit­tee chair Dave Re­ichert.

Con­gress­men have also in­tro­duced bills to end new tar­iffs on Cana­dian newsprint, urged a stop to Cana­dian soft­wood lum­ber du­ties and spo­ken out gen­er­ally against the White House’s con­fronta­tional trade tac­tics with friends like Canada.

“Canada does have al­lies in Wash­ing­ton and Congress,” said Dan Ujczo, a trade lawyer based in Colum­bus. “Here in Ohio, U.S. Se­na­tor Sher­rod Brown, who is one of the most ANTI-NAFTA, pro-tar­iff mem­bers of the Se­nate you will meet … even he’s say­ing that Canada should be ex­empted — as well as Mex­ico and the Eu­ro­pean Union — from steel and alu­minum tar­iffs.”

Af­ter meet­ing with For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land last month, mem­bers of the Se­nate’s Gop­dom­i­nated for­eign re­la­tions com­mit­tee went out of their way to com­mis­er­ate with Canada, cit­ing the “sad­ness” of the sud­denly tense re­la­tion­ship.

A “maple charm of­fen­sive” that has seen vir­tu­ally ev­ery mem­ber of the fed­eral cab­i­net make a to­tal of over 200 vis­its to the U.S. in the last year has likely helped en­cour­age such view­points, said a Cana­dian of­fi­cial fa­mil­iar with the trade file.

Mean­while, out­side ex­perts cau­tion that push­back to Trump’s trade agenda on Capi­tol Hill could turn out to be largely tooth­less — and fleet­ing. At­tempts to pass leg­is­la­tion giv­ing the Se­nate ac­tual, tan­gi­ble power over use of those na­tional-se­cu­rity tar­iffs, for in­stance, have twice failed. And the U.S. midterm elec­tions, rather than up­end the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s trade pol­icy, may usher in more al­lies for him, on both sides of the aisle.

“Congress is im­por­tant and there are some peo­ple who say nice things and ac­tu­ally do seem to agree with Canada,” said Chris Sands, head of the Cen­ter for Cana­dian Stud­ies at Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity. “What I don’t know is whether they have the guts to make a dif­fer­ence in this de­bate.”

In­deed, Congress had an op­por­tu­nity to stop Trump in his tracks re­cently, and failed to act. The pres­i­dent’s au­thor­ity to ne­go­ti­ate a new NAFTA deal ex­pired on July 1 and was au­to­mat­i­cally re­newed, but could have been halted with a “res­o­lu­tion of dis­ap­proval.” No one in Congress, which has con­sti­tu­tional au­thor­ity over trade, even pro­posed such a move, said Sands.

Ujczo sug­gested many Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors are will­ing to give Trump a “long leash” to see what he can ac­com­plish with his trade machi­na­tions, sens­ing that vot­ers, es­pe­cially the Trump base, are on­side with him.

“What we have seen is that his elec­torate is thrilled, is over­joyed by all of these mea­sures that are be­ing taken,” said Mon­ica de Bolle, a se­nior fel­low with Wash­ing­ton’s Peter­son In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional Eco­nomics.

Still, Congress has un­ques­tion­ably made some ges­tures of in­di­rect sup­port for Canada, and not just over the na­tional-se­cu­rity tar­iffs.

A group of 170 House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives mem­bers urged last month that the ad­min­is­tra­tion set­tle with Canada over soft­wood lum­ber, cit­ing the mount­ing costs of new homes trig­gered by coun­ter­vail­ing du­ties on Cana­dian wood.

Bills have been in­tro­duced in both houses to sus­pend tar­iffs that were placed on Cana­dian newsprint, shak­ing an al­ready strug­gling U.S. news­pa­per in­dus­try.

There is a “crit­i­cal mass” within Congress that’s gravely con­cerned about the pres­i­dent’s ac­tions, says De Bolle.

The pos­si­ble next chap­ter, though, may be less hope­ful for Canada.

Midterm elec­tions this fall are likely to fill Congress with more Democrats who are tra­di­tion­ally skep­ti­cal of free trade, and Trump Repub­li­cans who es­pouse his un­ortho­dox ap­proach.

“I re­ally cau­tion peo­ple when they say ‘We’ll just wait out Trump,’ or ‘We’ll wait for a Blue (Demo­crat) wave,’ ” said Ujczo. “This is the new nor­mal on trade.”

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