Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was selling a restored relationship between his government and U.S. President Donald Trump’s, at the close of the PM’s two-day visit to Washington this week.
Flanked by his ministers of Finance, Defence and Foreign Affairs at a press conference at the Canadian Embassy Thursday afternoon, Trudeau told reporters that free trade negotiations were tough, but in the end everyone got what they wanted.
“Throughout the NAFTA negotiations, which were contentious at times, absolutely, we maintained focus on the things that really matter,” said Trudeau.
“And because of that we’ve come through it with a very strong and positive relationship with the United States.”
An albatross for Trudeau in scratching out a revamped NATFA, or United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), were tariffs Trump levelled in May of last year on steel and aluminum entering the United States from Canada.
When the Trudeau’s government announced October 1, 2018 it reached an agreement with America, it took flak from the opposition benches and media for failing to have tariffs lifted as reciprocity.
At the time Trump levelled the steel tariffs, he caged these imports as a national security risk—a claim roundly dismissed by Trudeau, yet real enough for the United Steel Workers in Canada to sound the alarm.
For several years, and before Trump or his steel tariffs, the USW had been lobbying the federal government to examine China’s practice of dumping of steel into Canadian markets.
By 2017 the union said this Chinese steel along with other cheap product from Korea and Vietnam was transiting to the U.S. through Canada and killing Canadian jobs in the process.
In March of 2018, the federal government finally acted to clamp down on the practice and last May Trump lifted the tariffs, and Canada dropped its retaliatory duties on similar U.S. goods.
“The concerns we had on potential dumping into the North American market remains shared by Canadians and Americans,” Trudeau said Thursday.
At an earlier press scrum inside the Oval Office, the two leaders appeared amicable. When Trump was asked about the spectre of revisiting the tariffs on his Canadian neighbours, the president offered his brand of cautious optimism.
“There won’t be, hopefully, transhipping. If there’s transhipping I’ll call Justin and he’ll take care of it,” said Trump.
Trudeau noted, “We’ll be fine.”
As for ratifying NAFTA, it is likely that Trudeau will convene an emergency session of Parliament later this summer to formally pass Canadian legislation to codify updates on respective federal laws.
As for what happens in the U.S. House of Representatives, Trudeau met with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to speak about mutual benefits of the agreement for either country. But the PM would not venture an opinion beyond that.
“Canada is not going to get involved in the ratification process that the American Congress needs to go through,” he said.
At the Oval Office, Trump said the United States would do “anything” it could to pressure China to release Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
The pair were detained and accused of espionage at the end of last year in a tit-for-tat diplomatic battle over U.S. extradition of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, which has since spilled into a Chinese embargo on Canadian canola and pork.
Meng was arrested in December last year during a transit through Vancouver International Airport.
At the embassy press conference, Trudeau told reporters that he “had an extended conversation (with Trump) on the situation that Canada is currently facing in regards to China and the unacceptable situation that two Canadians are facing by arbitrary detention.”
Trump is expected to raise the issue during U.S.-China trade talks at the G20 in Osaka, Japan at the end of June. Whatever happens, it appears that Trudeau will hold firm on proceeding with Meng’s extradition.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has already dismissed the idea of letting Meng go to ease escalating tensions with China and today Trudeau reiterated, in French, his respect for Canadian and American extradition law.
With the U.S. Capitol Building as backdrop, Trudeau twice declined an opportunity to wade into the affairs of other nations, as he’s been prone to do during his tenure as prime minister.
Asked whether Trump’s tariff threats against Mexico over illegal immigrants crossing into the U.S. would impact Canada’s position on USMCA, Trudeau replied in the negative.
“We understand the difficulties involved with the U.S. southern border, but we will not be weighing in on bilateral issues between Mexico and the United States,” he said.