A former U.S. trade representative says he’s hoping that a recent wide-ranging trade complaint launched by the Canadian government against the United States won’t “end up blowing up in their face” at the NAFTA negotiating table.
Canada is challenging Washington’s use of anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties, according to a World Trade Organization (WTO) filing dated Dec. 20. The move came in the wake of new American duties on Canadian paper and a series of similar tariffs linked to softwood lumber and aerospace giant Bombardier.
“I can understand why Canada moved forward, but I think in the context of this administration … I hope it doesn’t end up blowing up in their face,” said Michael Froman during an interview with The West Block‘s Vassy Kapelos.
Donald Trump’s protectionist leanings have been obvious since before the U.S. presidential election, but Froman noted that the president has been particularly critical of the WTO and its system for dispute settlement.
“Canada bringing that challenge to the WTO is almost picking a fight that the administration would welcome,” he said. “The administration would welcome an opportunity to say the WTO really shouldn’t be in a position to judge these things … That’s not in anybody’s interests, certainly not in Canada’s interests, and I hope that cooler heads will prevail.”
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International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne defended the WTO filing earlier this month, saying it sends a message that Canada won’t back down.
“When people see that you’re firm, you get respect,” Champagne told reporters.
Working toward a deal
According to Froman, it was always “ambitious” for Mexico, Canada and the U.S. to think a new NAFTA deal could be completed in 2017, or even by March 2018.
The next sit-down is scheduled to happen in Montreal on Tuesday, with Canada saying it is hoping for the best outcome, but preparing for the worst. Trump has repeatedly threatened to pull the U.S. out of the deal, but recently seemed to suggest he might wait until after Mexico’s elections in the summer.
Meanwhile, each new round of talks brings the parties closer to resolving the toughest issues on the table, Froman said, or to pulling out entirely.
“It’s at a critical point where I think it will be important to show whether progress can be made on some of the most difficult, outstanding issues,” he told Kapelos.
“I think it’s going to be very interesting to see whether those do prove, at the end of the day, to be red lines.”
– Watch the full interview with former U.S. trade envoy Michael Froman above.