President Donald Trump signaled Monday after meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that his promised revisions to a decades-old trade pact among the United States, Canada and Mexico would hit his southern neighbor harder than the one to the north.
The president’s remarks came as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan was also wading into trade issues with the Canadian leader, especially ones that affect industries near and dear to Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin.
Trump, standing alongside Trudeau in the White House’s East Room, said he intends to make only small changes to provisions in the North American Free Trade Agreement that focus on U.S.-Canadian trade. But, as he often does, the new U.S. president had tougher words for Mexican leaders.
“We have a very outstanding trade relationship with Canada. We’ll be tweaking it,” he said of the NAFTA language. “We’ll be doing certain things that are going to benefit both of our countries.”
Trudeau’s meeting with Ryan on Monday at the Capitol, meanwhile, got into the nitty-gritty of the U.S. dairy industry’s concerns with Canadian tariffs and import limits on American products. Ryan also discussed dairy issues Feb. 7 with Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
“We had a productive discussion focused on ways to deepen ties between the U.S. and Canada with respect to trade and national security. This means reaffirming our commitment to NATO and increasing economic cooperation to make our nations more prosperous and secure. I also reemphasized the importance of breaking down trade barriers and improving market access for America’s dairy farmers. We look forward to continue strengthening the U.S.-Canada relationship,” Ryan said in a statement after the meeting this afternoon.
Through the first 11 months of last year, Canada was America’s second-largest trading partner behind only China. The North American powers exchanged $500.4 billion in goods, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Canadian trade amounted for 15 percent of America’s total over that span.
Trump, who has promised to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and threatened a tax on Mexican goods when they enter the United States, told reporters that America’s warmer neighbor should expect bigger changes.
Any flaws in U.S.-Canadian trade relations is “a much-less-severe situation than what’s taken place on the southern border,” Trump said.
“On the southern, for many, many years, the transaction was not fair to the United States. It was an extremely unfair transaction,” he said.
On Feb. 2, the American president reiterated his campaign-trail skepticism of the pact, calling it a “catastrophe” for the U.S. and declaring he might push for a “new NAFTA.” Trump told reporters that day that he wants “to change it and maybe we do it and maybe we do a new NAFTA and we add an extra ‘f’ in NAFTA … for free and fair trade ... because it’s very unfair.”
Trump’s reassurances for Canadians and warnings to Mexicans came after the Canadian prime minister acknowledged that the U.S. president’s vows to renegotiate — or even totally rewrite NAFTA — are a big worry in his country.
“It is a real concern for many Canadians because we know that our economy is very dependent on our bonds, our relationship with the United States,” he said. “Goods and services do cross the border each way every single day. This means … millions of jobs for Canadians — and good jobs for Canadians.”
Though the 45-year-old Canadian leader is 25 years younger than Trump, he managed to slip in a few lines that showed he’s more of a chiseled politician, like when he noted that “millions of jobs in the United States that depend on those [trade] relationships between our two countries.”
Trudeau noted that he and Trump plan other talks on NAFTA and trade, also saying that their staffs will build off what the pair discussed Monday in Washington on his first visit to the White House since Trump took power. Jobs will be the major focus, he said.
The son of the late Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau also said he will press Trump on the importance of the “free flow of goods and services” between their countries. “We have to be aware of the integration of our economies, which is extremely positive for both our countries,” he said.
A major agenda item during Trudeau’s White House meetings with Trump was how to “ensure equal opportunities for women in the workforce,” as the countries put it in a joint statement. “We are committed to removing barriers to women’s participation in the business community and supporting women as they advance through it.”
The two governments announced the “United States-Canada Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders,” saying in the statement that it will “promote the growth of women-owned enterprises and … further contribute to our overall economic growth and competitiveness, as well as the enhanced integration of our economies.”
The issue is a top one for Trudeau and Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who joined them for one meeting into which reporters and photographers were allowed.
The joint press conference was stunningly low on news even as Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, fights off calls that he lose his job over apparent mis-truths about discussing sanctions on Russia with that country’s ambassador to the U.S. before the Trump administration took over on Jan. 20.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued a statement calling on Flynn to resign.
The Trump White House handpicked the reporters who asked Trump the two questions the U.S. press corps were allowed to ask. (The traveling Canadian press corps also asked two.) The first reporter essentially asked Trump how he expects his relationship to Trudeau and Canada to develop; the second basically asked Trump what national security issues keep him awake at night.
There was no question about Flynn’s future.