Trump And Trudeau Aides Conduct Covert Trade Talks

David Krayden | Ottawa Bureau Chief

President-elect Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are miles apart on policy issues, but their senior aides are trying to build bridges on trade.

According to a story first reported by the Globe and Mail on Monday, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and chief strategist Stephen Bannon have been quietly meeting with Trudeau’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts, as well as the prime minister’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, and Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., David MacNaughton.

The covert discussions have revolved around avoiding a potentially catastrophic trade war between the two countries if the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is scrapped by the incoming Trump administration.

Canada and the United States are the world’s largest trading partners : more than US$690 billion in goods and services were traded in 2015 and nine million U.S. jobs are contingent upon cross-border trade.

“This is big stuff we are trying to navigate here,” a senior Canadian government insider told the Globe and Mail. “We can’t lose sight of the fact that the country has faced difficult times with the Americans in the past and we have dealt with it.”

If the two countries are talking, it’s because Trump’s rhetoric on free trade during the election campaign always focused on Mexico and never Canada, and some senior Canadian trade officials area concerned that Trump is not aware how well they say NAFTA has worked for U.S. vis-à-vis Canada, if not Mexico.

Trudeau has also tapped the policy advice of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who was a close friend and ally of President Ronald Reagan while the two led their respective countries in the 1980s.  One of Mulroney’s key legislative initiatives was the 1989 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement that set the stage for NAFTA five years later.

Mulroney who often stays at his residence in Palm Beach, Florida – just doors away from Trump’s home – has increasingly warmed-up to the president-elect, publicly stating that  “I would not be surprised if indeed Trump surprised everybody and turned out to be a very important president of the United States, with a significant record of achievement.” he told CBC News in December.

He instructed Canadians to relax about Canada-U.S. trade relations:  “Our trade between Canada and the United States is a perfect model,” he said. “They have no problems with us. I think they’re talking mostly about Mexico.

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