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Trudeau says his focus during U.S. trade talks is ‘not escalating’

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WATCH: Trudeau says tariffs are a 'tool' Trump has to use – Sep 25, 2018

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered some insight into Canada’s approach to trade talks during an armchair discussion at the UN General Assembly in New York.

Trudeau, along with Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Trade Minister Jim Carr, participated in the discussion Tuesday morning, which centred on Canada’s global outlook.

Asked about how Trudeau responds to Canada being labelled a “national security threat” to the U.S., which was the context for U.S. President Donald Trump slapping tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, Trudeau said he was trying to keep a cordial relationship with the U.S.

“My focus on this throughout is simply: not escalating,” Trudeau said. “Not opining, not weighing in. My job is very simple — it’s to defend Canadians’ interest … in order to defend Canadians’ interests having a constructive relationship with the president, with the United States administration, while choosing to not escalate or respond in kind is something we need to do.”

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He did point out that Canada has responded to the tariffs with retaliatory tariffs, because “we cannot simply accept punitive tariffs without a bit of balance there.”

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“You have to remember that the relationship between Canada and the United States is far deeper than between the Canadian government and the American administration.”

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Trudeau said the steel and aluminum tariffs, along with the threat of auto tariffs, are “a tool that the president has to use, and he is using them because he has a sense that there are other tools that have to go through Congress that he doesn’t get to use,” but that Canada wasn’t seriously considered a security threat in the traditional way.

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“Using 232 around security, they make an argument around economic security, and economic sovereignty and there’s no perception that Canada can be an actual threat in a military or in the way that one usually perceived ‘national security.'”

NAFTA negotiations

While there are no official trade negotiations going on at the assembly, Trudeau has previously said negotiators are “very likely” to hold informal talks on the sidelines of the UN meeting.

The U.S. and Mexico have agreed to a bilateral deal while Canada is still left at the table.

“They (the United States and Mexico) made certain agreements. I think there’s a possibility there to build on what they agreed,” Trudeau said when asked whether the U.S.-Mexican deal might form the basis of a three-nation pact.

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READ MORE: U.S. ready to submit Mexico-only trade deal because Canada ‘isn’t making concessions’

“But we know Canada’s interests are what we have to stand up for … we are looking for the right deal, not just for Canada but for the United States.”

Later Tuesday, U.S. trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer said there was still a lot of “distance” between Canada and the U.S. in regards to NAFTA.

“The fact is, Canada is not making concessions in areas where we think they’re essential,” Lighthizer said. “We’re going to go ahead with Mexico. If Canada comes along now, that would be the best. If Canada comes along later, then that’s what’ll happen.”

Carr also said Canada is “working very hard to sign other trade” agreements.

WATCH: Carr says Canada working hard on signing other trade agreements

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Carr says Canada working hard on signing other trade agreements – Sep 25, 2018

 

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—  With files from Reuters 

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