Canada talks tough with free trade talks looming

By Barry Ellsworth


The Canadian government is standing firm in its aggressive action against what it calls unfair American trade practices, saying Thursday that such tactics will earn respect from the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Canada’s International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said the Americans respect a tough stance.

“I think the American colleagues understand when you stand strong in sending a message that said, ‘We will stand up for the forest industry, we will stand up for the aerospace industry, we’ll stand up for Canadian workers,” Champagne said. “When people see that you are firm, you get respect.”

His comments were made a day after Canada filed with the World Trade Organization (WTO) nearly 200 complaints that Americans breeched global trade rules.

Canada is upset at U.S. tariffs imposed on imports of Canadian softwood lumber, newsprint and an almost 300 percent duty on Canadian aerospace Bombardier CSeries aircraft.

Given the volatility of the trade talks, some wondered about Canada filing the WTO complaint that was sure to anger Americans – and it did.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the WTO filing was a “broad and ill-advised attack”.

The filing was made just as a sixth round of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) talks are set to resume Jan. 23 in Montreal.

Trump has threatened to pull out of the trade deal with Canada and Mexico unless American demands – earlier dubbed “troubling” and “unconventional” by Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland – are met.

But while Champagne was talking tough, Freeland said she remains hopeful a new NAFTA deal beneficial to all three countries can be reached.

“We believe it is absolutely possible, if there is goodwill on all sides, to have a positive outcome in Montreal,” she said. “When it comes to the more unconventional U.S. proposals, we have been doing some creative thinking, we’ve been talking with Canadian stakeholders and we have some new ideas that we look forward to talking with our U.S. and Mexican counterparts about in Montreal.”

Freeland said the WTO filing is about the “unfair and unjustified” tariffs imposed, and is “on a quite separate track from the NAFTA negotiations”.

Champagne and Freeland spoke to reporters before the beginning of a two-day Cabinet retreat in London, Ontario.

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