In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, the minister in charge of what was formerly known as the industry portfolio, stressed the move announced by U.S. President Donald Trump last week will only hurt American manufacturers given the tight integration of North American supply chains.
“This is bad economics. This is not good for the Canadian economy or the American economy,” said Bains, calling the measures “counter-intuitive” to the intent behind the renegotiated NAFTA deal.
Trump’s move comes in the context of the looming U.S. election in November and the steep economic downturn caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
It also comes just one month after the renegotiated NAFTA came into force after years of work by Canadian, American and Mexican officials to reach a new understanding.
Trump previously used steep tariffs on steel and aluminum as a bargaining chip during those negotiations to pressure Canadian officials to cave to his demands.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who managed that renegotiation in her former role as foreign minister, described the re-imposition of aluminum tariffs on what are widely viewed as dubious claims of national security on Friday as “ludicrous.”
When asked whether Trump’s move — done via executive order — made the whole point of renegotiation moot, Bains said the updated agreement still has value.
“We’re very fortunate to have negotiated a new NAFTA,” he said.
“I think we must recognize that the U.S. is a critical market for Canada and negotiating a new NAFTA provides a stability, continuity and predictability for Canadian businesses, which means it’s good for Canadian workers who rely on businesses to make investments.”
Bains was also asked about the announcement he made last week that the government has signed deals with Pfizer and Moderna to acquire millions of doses of the coronavirus vaccine candidates the firms are working on developing, if they are successful.
The coronavirus pandemic is now stretching into the sixth month of social and economic restrictions imposed in Canada in a bid to limit the spread of the deadly virus.
But chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam warned last week that a vaccine, if developed, will not be a silver bullet and that restrictions will likely need to remain in place for two to three years.
Bains acknowledged the difficulty in predicting when a vaccine might be available but said it remained critical for the government to invest in making sure Canadians have access if or when one arrives.
“It’s difficult to say with any precision when a vaccine will be developed,” he said.
“What we want to communicate to Canadians is that we’re exploring all possible options.”
There are 118,649 confirmed cases of the virus in Canada as of Friday and 8,996 deaths.