In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters that Canada cannot keep charging the United States “300 per cent” on dairy products.
In the midst of tense NAFTA negotiations between the United States and Canada, negotiators have been tight-lipped about the progress of the talks, and especially on the progress on key issues like supply management and Chapter 19.
Following a meeting with the Polish President Andrzej Duda, Trump took several questions from reporters about NAFTA, as well as on sexual misconduct allegations against his Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh and American relations with Poland.
On NAFTA, Trump said that “Canada has taken advantage of our country for a long time.”
‘We love Canada, we love the people of Canada, but they are in a position that’s not a good trade position for Canada,” he added. Trump also reiterated that the U.S. and Mexico had reached a tentative trade deal, which seemingly kicked NAFTA talks into overdrive.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has been back and forth to Washington in recent weeks as pressure mounts on the Canadian government to bring home a deal.
However, she’s often repeated the position of the Liberal government: “No deal is better than a bad deal.”
While she spoke to reporters on Tuesday, Freeland insisted that the environment around negotiations is one of “good will and good faith,” but that Canada is fully prepared to walk away from NAFTA if a deal satisfactory to all parties cannot be reached.
However, she ended on a commonly made point, saying that “one of Canada’s national characteristics is a talent for compromise.”
Canada’s supply management system for dairy and poultry products has been a sticking point in the plot of the NAFTA saga. Under the system, the government regulates production or supply of various dairy and poultry products and allocates production quotas to farmers. High tariffs make it impossible for a pizza maker in Canada, for example, to import cheese for that pizza that is not created from milk produced under Canada’s quota system.
Trump has repeatedly criticized Canada’s dairy policy and repeated this complaint on Tuesday afternoon.
“They cannot continue to charge us 300 per cent tariff on dairy products, and that’s what they’re doing,” he said.
But despite those tariffs, the United States last year ran a $474 million trade surplus in dairy products with Canada. U.S. farmers solds $636 million in dairy products to Canada while Canadian farmers sold just $162 million worth of dairy products to U.S. customers, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
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And dairy is barely a blip — 0.1 per cent — in U.S.-Canada trade, which amounted to $680 billion last year.
The president doesn’t seem to be the only American official frustrated with Canada’s approach to NAFTA negotiations, however. In a statement released to the U.S. website Politico, house majority whip Steven Scalise said there is a “growing frustration” among Congress with Canada’s “negotiating tactics.”
He added that Canada didn’t seem willing to “make any concessions” to achieve a deal.
NAFTA talks have been ongoing for 13 months now and little is known about how much longer they’ll continue — as loosely-set deadlines continue to slide by. Freeland will return to Washington later this week to resume negotiations.
— With files from The Canadian Press