Justin Trudeau defends Canada's stance on dairy in trade spat with Trump

Justin Trudeau is interviewed by Bloomberg News in Toronto on Thursday. Photo from CP.
Justin Trudeau was interviewed by Bloomberg News in Toronto on Thursday. Photo from CP.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is learning how to deal with U.S. President Donald Trump, especially when the two countries don’t see eye to eye.

“He is a little bit unlike many politicians,” Trudeau said of Trump during a sit-down interview with Bloomberg News Thursday in Toronto.

“As politicians, we’re very, very much trained to say something and stick to it, whereas he has shown that if he says one thing and actually hears good counter-arguments or good reasons why he should shift his position, he will take a different position if it’s a better one, if the arguments win him over,” Trudeau told Bloomberg Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait.

“There’s a challenge in that for electors, but there’s also an opportunity in that for people who engage with him to try and work to achieve beneficial outcomes,” he explained in the video published to YouTube by CBC News.

Perhaps that’s why Trump has changed his stance on a number of sensitive issues during his transition from presidential candidate to commander-in-chief.

Trump was strongly opposed to military action against Bashar Al Assad in Syria until he ordered the launch of 59 U.S. tomahawk missiles targeting a Syrian government base. He previously called NATO “obsolete” until the alliance’s secretary general visited the White House, and then the U.S. president said it was “no longer obsolete.” He slammed China as a currency manipulator, but he’s also backtracked on those claims as he attempts to work with the Chinese on finding a solution to the nuclear North Korea problem.

And last week Trump took aim at Canada over free trade.

“Canada, what they’ve done to our daily farm workers, is a disgrace,” Trump said Thursday. “Our farmers in Wisconsin and New York state are being put out of business.”

The president went on to call the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) “a disaster” for the U.S.

“We can’t let Canada, or anybody else, take advantage and do what they did to our workers and to our farmers,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.

Trump was referring to the fact that Canada plays an active role in keep the Canadian dairy industry strong and competitive. Just last week, Canada lowered prices for some domestically produced dairy products, which undercuts some U.S. producers and potentially leaves them out of work.

During a news conference Friday with the Italian prime minister in Ottawa, Trudeau defended Canada’s stance on the matter.

“I will always defend Canada’s interests,” Trudeau said. “There is no international free market when it comes to agriculture. Every country supports its farmers in different ways.”

A day earlier, the prime minister told Bloomberg that the disagreement over dairy has roots in what’s happening south of the border.

“The U.S. has a $400 million dairy surplus with Canada,” Trudeau explained. “So it’s not Canada that is the challenge here.”

Setting aside the fact that Trump is advocating for “buy American, hire American” policies in his own country, which is the same kind of protectionism the president is now slamming, Trudeau appears poised to lay out his government’s case for Canada’s contentious stance in the hopes of persuading Trump to see his side of this issue.

“We have a supply management system that works very well here in Canada,” Trudeau told Bloomberg, adding that the Americans “choose to subsidise” their agriculture industries with hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Different countries have different approaches, and we’re going to engage in a thoughtful, fact-based conversation on how to move forward in a way that both protects our consumers and our agricultural producers.”

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