Trump vows NAFTA ‘tweak’ after Trudeau meeting

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — President Donald Trump said Monday he wants to “tweak” the United States’ trade relationship with Canada as he presses for changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

President Donald Trump greets Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau upon his arrival at the White House in Washington on Monday.

Trump said in a joint press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that there will be changes to the trade relationship with Canada under his proposed changes to NAFTA, although most of the debate has focused on Mexico so far. He offered no specifics.

“We have a very outstanding trade relationship with Canada,” Trump said after meeting with Trudeau at the White House. “We’ll be tweaking it. We’ll be doing certain things that are going to benefit both of our countries.”

Trump added: “It’s a much less severe situation that what’s taking place on the southern border. On the southern border, for many, many years the transaction was not fair to the United States. It was an extremely unfair transaction.

“We’re going to work with Mexico,” the president said. “We’re going to make it a fair deal for both parties. I think we’re going to get along very well with Mexico. They understand and we understand.”

Trudeau, meanwhile, painted a picture of a Canadian economy that is intertwined with the U.S.

“Canadians are rightly aware of the fact that much of our economy depends on good working relations with the United States, a good integration with the American economy,” he said. “The fact is that millions of good jobs on both sides of the border depend on the smooth and easy flow of goods and services and people back and forth across our border.

In a joint statement issued Monday, the two referenced the bridge planned between Detroit and Windsor: “Given our shared focus on infrastructure investments, we will encourage opportunities for companies in both countries to create jobs through those investments. In particular, we look forward to the expeditious completion of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, which will serve as a vital economic link between our two countries.”

The Canadian Prime Minister, 25 years junior to the U.S. president and far to his left politically, sought to draw parallels between Trump’s election and his own liberal party’s electoral victory in Canada in 2015.

“Both President Trump and I got elected on commitments to support the middle class, to work hard for people who need a real shot at success,” he said. “We know that by working together, by ensuring the continued effective integration of our two economies, we are going to be creating greater opportunities for middle-class Canadians and Americans now and in the future.”

NAFTA was enacted in 1994 to create a free trade zone between the U.S., Mexico and Canada that eliminated tariffs on most goods produced in North America.

Canada is Michigan’s biggest trading partner, with the state exporting $23.5 billion in goods there in 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Shipments to Canada accounted for nearly 44 percent of Michigan’s exports. Mexico, meanwhile, was the state’s second-largest trading partner with $11.7 billion in exports in 2015, which accounted for about 22 percent of the state’s exports.

Ford Motor Co. has said it sold 304,618 cars in Canada in 2016, which it says is its best year of sales in the country since 1989. General Motors Co. says it sold 267,341 vehicles in Canada in 2016, which was an increase of 1.5 per cent over 2015. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles reported sales of 278,729 cars in Canada in 2016, which the company said was down 4 percent compared to 2015. All three automakers have manufacturing facilities in Canada.

Trump showered praise on U.S. automakers on Monday for making new domestic investments since he took office as he pledged to press forward with changes to the NAFTA trade agreement.

“You probably have noticed that Ford is making billions of dollars of new investments in this country,” he said. “General Motors likewise is expanding plants and going to build new plants. Fiat Chrysler was at a meeting where they are doing the same.”

Trudeau pointed out that Canada is the biggest trading partner for many states like Michigan.

“As we know, 35 U.S. states list Canada as their largest export market, and our economies benefit from the over $2 billion in two-way trade that takes place every single day,’ he said. “Millions of good middle-class jobs on both sides of the border depend on this crucial partnership.”

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing