Justin Trudeau spends a lot of his time tiptoeing around the Donald Trump issue. That is, he disagrees with the American president on a lot of moral and political points, but he would never come right out and insult him or his country or frame them as enemies. Monday afternoon, however, Donald Trump reiterated the stance he’s held since the presidential campaign: that the U.S. is constantly being taken advantage of by it’s allies. Namely, Canada.
“Canada does not treat us right in terms of the farming and the crossing the borders,” he said to reporters at the White House, “They’ll either treat us right or we’ll have to do business differently.” He added, “We cannot continue to be taken advantage of by other countries.” His comments have rekindled fears that the Americans might be looking to take a tougher stance not just with NAFTA, but with all trade and perhaps impose a tariff on all international imports.
— CityNews Toronto (@CityNews) February 12, 2018
“We are going to charge countries outside of our country — countries that take advantage of the United States,” Trump told reporters, “Some of them are so-called allies but they are not allies on trade… So we’re going to be doing very much a reciprocal tax and you’ll be hearing about that during the week and the coming months.”
From any other world leader, that seems like a solid and quickly-moving threat that could seriously damage trade with that country. This is Donald Trump though and he doesn’t have a stellar record when it comes to turning vague threats into a political reality that sticks. Point being made, what would it mean for Canadians and NAFTA if he means what he says?
On NAFTA, it means a lot of the same things we’ve known since renegotiations started. The Americans are going in with an “America First” mindset that is making a universally advantageous deal difficult to come by. On trade in general, it’s unlikely that the Americans would impose new taxes (they’re probably pretty sick of dealing with tax law at this point) but it could mean new tariffs, which are different.
Interestingly, it’s unclear on just what facts Trump is basing his assessment that the U.S. is being unfairly treated. Many states have a trade surplus with Canada, meaning that they sell more to us than they buy. Adding a tariff to imports would just doubly disadvantage Canada.
Trump criticized Canada again today, per pool: “Canada has treated us very unfairly on timber and lumber…and not easy on Wisconsin farmers.”
In response, Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson praised NAFTA and said, “Wisconsin operates a trade surplus with both Canada and Mexico.”
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) February 13, 2018
Trump on NAFTA today: “Canada does not treat us right, in terms of the farming, and the crossing the borders.”
It sometimes seems – and hear me out here – that the president might not know what he’s talking about.https://t.co/lIwVlh97Yd
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) February 12, 2018
What’s even more puzzling about Trump’s statement is his mention of borders. He’s yelled a lot about the U.S.’s border with Mexico and the pressing need to build a wall along it, but he’s stayed pretty quiet on the subject of the Canadian border. His “unfair” assessment is especially interesting because it would seem that, if anything, Canada should be complaining about people crossing north.
The Globe and Mail reported last August that illegal border crossings into Canada have surged since Donald Trump took office and predicted that the trend would continue as long as he is president. In particular, Canada is seeing refugees crossing at unguarded points in the border and claiming asylum. Many of these refugees are from Haiti because the temporary legal resident statuses they were granted in the U.S. after the 2010 earthquake devastated much of their country could be revoked under the new stricter immigration laws the Republicans are proposing.
In another move to keep a check on their borders, a 1953 regulation that was reduced in Canada border states during the Obama administration has become common practice again. As reported in the Toronto Star this week, under this regulation, American border patrol agents are permitted to stop and inquire about the legal status of anyone travelling on a bus or train within 100 miles of any U.S. border, including along the coast. In 2011, Obama reportedly told border agents to stop the practice except along the Mexico border. Now, Trump’s administration has resumed the checks everywhere.
So people are travelling north to Canada by the thousands and Trump has added extra measures to catch potential illegal immigrants near the Canadian border, but somehow Canada is unfair on borders. Puzzling.
Like with a lot of Trump’s statements, it would seem we just have to sit back and see if this turns into policy or if it’s just more reactionary rhetoric to something he deems in the moment to be a threat.