Copyright Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland Feb. 8, 2017, in Washington, D.C.

Trudeau's Top Envoy Talks Tough on Tariffs in Washington Visit

Feb. 9, 2017
“I was pushing on an open door with everyone I spoke to,” Chrystia Freeland said of her two-day visit to the U.S. capital. “I did make clear that we would be strongly opposed to any imposition of new tariffs between Canada and the U.S.”

Canada’s foreign minister told Donald Trump’s officials her government will take a tough stand against any new trade barriers and told reporters she won assurances that tensions won’t escalate to that point.

Chrystia Freeland, speaking from Washington after meeting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, said the former Exxon Mobil Corp. chairman’s deep knowledge of Canada would be helpful as the new administration’s policies take shape. The U.S. president has signaled he intends to move quickly on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“I was pushing on an open door with everyone I spoke to,” Freeland said of her two-day visit to the U.S. capital, which also included talks with House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Senators John McCain, Bob Corker and Ben Cardin. “I did make clear that we would be strongly opposed to any imposition of new tariffs between Canada and the U.S.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Freeland and other ministers to show Trump’s officials that trade with Canada is of mutual benefit. Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan visited at the start of the week, and Finance Minister Bill Morneau will follow Thursday in a full-court press by the Canadian government that lays the groundwork for a meeting between Trudeau and the president, expected in coming weeks.

Freeland’s description of positive talks meshes with comments by Trump officials, who have assured the government that Canada is less of a target for its trade practices than Mexico or China.

The foreign minister suggested U.S. politicians aren’t about to impose a tariff on imported goods, a key issue for Canada because three-quarters of its exports are sent to its southern neighbor. The U.S. debate on a border tax is “only beginning” and there appear to be “strongly contrasting points of view,” she said.

Asked what Canada would do if a tariff was proposed, Freeland said the government would “respond appropriately,” without elaborating. She added that often times in trade talks “the best defense is a good offense.”

Asked about reports that Ryan objects to Canada’s system of regulating its supply of dairy products, Freeland said she “forcefully defended that sector.”

Canada may not have that strong of a position given its reliance on U.S. buyers. The C.D. Howe Institute, a Toronto-based think tank, said in a report last month that retaliating against a U.S. tariff would do twice as much damage to Canada’s economy and cause little pain stateside.

Freeland spent most of her time on the call with reporters emphasizing that the trade tensions on the rise between the U.S. and its southern neighbor aren’t likely to spread north. “Everyone was familiar with Canada and familiar with our open relationship -- and very familiar with the key fact that it’s a balanced relationship,” she said.

By Josh Wingrove and Greg Quinn

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