OTTAWA — The Canada-U.S. trade war bled into farm fields on Monday as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government faced dual attacks from Canadian dairy farmers, and President Donald Trump.
The Dairy Farmers of Canada branded as “troubling” and “worrisome” comments Trudeau made on NBC’s Meet the Press that Canada was considering allowing U.S. dairy greater access to the Canadian market as part of the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Trump, meanwhile, broadened his trade tirades on Twitter into agriculture, writing: “Canada has all sorts of trade barriers on our Agricultural products. Not acceptable!”
The attacks came as the government is already reeling from Trump’s imposition last week of steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada, part the president’s broader tariff attack on Mexico and Europe.
Trudeau also faced pressure Monday to speed up Canada’s tariff retaliation on U.S. steel and aluminum imports, while it consults on imposing levies on other American consumer goods.
Speaking on the NBC Sunday news show, Trudeau called the tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum “insulting and unacceptable.”
Trudeau was also asked about possible concessions the U.S. is seeking in the NAFTA talks.
“I think they want a better deal on their auto sector from Mexico and I think they want more access on certain agricultural products like dairy to Canada,” the prime minister said.
Asked if he was willing to give that, Trudeau replied: “We were moving towards flexibility in those areas that I thought was very, very promising.” But he said the U.S. insistence on a five-year sunset clause was a deal breaker.
Pierre Lampron, president of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, sent Trudeau a letter on Monday, demanding a meeting and questioning his support for the dairy industry.
“These comments are deeply troubling for our dairy farmers, as you and your government’s representatives have repeatedly stated that you support the supply management system and our sector,” Lampron wrote.
“Your comments, in addition to political meetings between your staff and President Trump’s advisers, for which there has been little information provided to us, are quite worrisome.”
Trudeau’s office declined direct comment on the letter and instead referred to comments Monday in question period, in which Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay once again defended Canada’s supply management system.
“The prime minister, myself, the minister of foreign affairs, cabinet ministers and caucus, and, indeed, the trade negotiators of NAFTA have clearly indicated the Canadian direction,” MacAulay said.
“The Liberal government is the government that put supply management in place and it is the Liberal government that will protect supply management.”
Canada has already granted some access to its dairy markets in its other big free trade deals with the European Union and the re-booted Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 11-country Pacific Rim pact that does not include the U.S.
Trudeau also faced calls Monday to speed up the imposition of retaliatory tariffs on U.S. steel and aluminum, but he rebuffed them.
Trudeau said he wants to respect the government’s 30-day consultation period on its proposed $16.6-billion tariff package, retaliation for the Trump administration’s decision to impose 25 per cent import duties on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum.
The federal government wants to consult Canadians before enacting its response, which targets not only U.S. steel and aluminum, but also a wide variety of goods from orange juice to playing cards to toilet paper.
Joseph Galimberti, the president of the Canadian Steel Producers Association, said he urged Trudeau in a meeting Monday to immediately impose the retaliatory tariffs on metals while it consults on the other products.
Galimberti said American steel continues to flow into Canada tariff-free while Canadian steel now faces tariffs.
“This is a very live situation,” Galimberti told reporters after the meeting, add that companies are “experiencing damages and interruptions today, supply chains are going to change going forward.
“This is something that the government is going to need to pay attention to.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer also urged Trudeau to accelerate the retaliation.
“The American tariffs went into effect immediately and Canadian shipments of steel are already being turned back from the border,” said Scheer. “Why is the prime minister waiting three weeks to impose these counter-measures specifically on steel and aluminum when the U.S. tariffs came into effect right away?”
Trudeau replied he wants to follow through on the consultations while trying to persuade the U.S. to drop the tariffs.
“One of the fundamental realities is that nobody wins in trade wars,” he said.
“We continue to believe that by working thoughtfully and firmly with the American administration we are going to be able to move forward in a positive direction.”