The man responsible for holding up Canada’s end in the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) says it’s time for new talks to begin before angry rhetoric poisons the process.
Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau, in addition to his regular portfolio, holds a key position in the Trudeau government. He’s the chairman of the cabinet committee on Canada/U.S. relations — essentially Canada’s liaison officer between the Trudeau and Trump cabinets.
He is probably the cabinet minister who best understands the United States. While seconded to NASA from the Canadian navy in the 1980s, he became the first Canadian in space.
Garneau says President Donald Trump’s occasional anti-NAFTA tirades are counter-productive to the renegotiation process and bad for cross-border commerce.
“I hope we will get this under way fairly quickly, because in the United States and in Canada those who are interested in trading and investing are living with a certain amount of uncertainty,” Garneau told CBC News.
“The sooner we can discuss the specifics, the better.”
Trump began the war of words last week when he called NAFTA “a complete and total disaster” for the United States and specifically accused the Canadian dairy industry of benefiting from “one-sided” trade rules.
“I wasn’t going to do this,” Trump said from the Oval Office. “I was in Wisconsin the other day, and I want to end, and add, by saying that Canada, what they’ve done to our dairy farm workers is a disgrace. It’s a disgrace.”
“We can’t let Canada or anybody else take advantage and do what they did to our workers and to our farmers. And again I want to also just mention: included in there is lumber, timber and energy,” he added.
Garneau told CBC he does not know what the president was talking about.
“We need to wait for the details on this,” Garneau said.
Asked if Trump’s comments on the dairy were getting any “play” in the U.S. media, Garneau said, “I didn’t see much play — and of course I was busy talking to legislators at the state level and municipal level as well. But I didn’t see much play there; I know it played in Canada,” he said.
Garneau also questioned Trump’s concerns about softwood lumber being “dumped” on U.S. markets.
Canadian Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has also joined the NAFTA debate of late, saying that her government wants “rules-based” trade and will continue to defend Canada’s interests.