'Things should go well': top Trump aide reassures Canada about US trade ties
Stephen Schwarzman, who is expected to head the US president’s business advisory council, addresses Canadian concerns after meeting Trudeau in Calgary
Justin Trudeau has agreed to meet Donald Trump soon, but no date has been set. Photograph: Chris Wattie/Reuters
Ashifa Kassam in Toronto
Tuesday 24 January 2017 10.07 AEDT
First published on Tuesday 24 January 2017 08.28 AEDT
A senior business adviser to Donald Trump has told Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government that Canada has little reason to worry about the president’s push to renegotiate Nafta, as Canada prepares for what could be a tumultuous overhaul of its relationship with the US.
On Monday, Trump’s senior business adviser said Canada had little cause for concern. “Canada finds itself, frankly, in a really very special status,” said Stephen Schwarzman, the chief executive officer of investment firm Blackstone Group LP. “Things should go well for Canada in terms of any discussions with the United States.”
Schwarzman, who has been nominated to head Trump’s business advisory council, was speaking in Calgary, after privately meeting with Trudeau and speaking to his cabinet. “I think trade between the US and Canada is really very much in balance and is a model for the way that trade relations should be … So I think Canada is very well positioned for any discussions with the United States,” he told reporters.
Trudeau and his cabinet are in Calgary for a two-day retreat, much of which will focus on how Donald Trump’s presidency will affect longstanding Canada-US cooperation on issues that range from trade to border security and intelligence.
On Monday, Reuters reported that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner would travel to Calgary to meet Trudeau and his cabinet, describing the visit as a sign of the developing ties between Trudeau’s government and those in Trump’s inner circle. Hours later, a senior Canadian official said the trip had been scrapped after plans fell through.
Canada will probably be one of the first countries in the world to experience how Trump’s blistering rhetoric on the campaign trail will match the actions of his presidency. Throughout the campaign Trump routinely disparaged Nafta, describing it as the “worst deal in history”.
Days into his presidency, Trump signalled that talks on the decades-old trade agreement would be a priority. “We will be starting negotiations having to do with Nafta,” Trump told reporters on Sunday. “We are going to start renegotiating on Nafta, on immigration and on security at the border.”
Inherent within the talks are big risks for Canada: three-quarters of its exports went to the US last year, while nearly 400,000 people a day cross the shared border. In this country of some 36 million people, roughly 2.5 million Canadian jobs are dependent on US trade.
David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the US, said preliminary discussions with Trump’s transition team have suggested that reforms will be aimed at countries such as Mexico and China, both of which have large trade deficits with the US. “I don’t think Canada is the focus at all,” MacNaughton told reporters on Sunday. “What we’ve got to worry about is that we’re collateral damage.”
While Trudeau and Trump have agreed to meet soon, no date has been set. In the meantime the Canadian government has sought to highlight how the US benefits from its trade relationship with Canada, pointing to the fact that Canada is the top export destination for 35 states and that nearly 9 million US jobs depend on trade and investment from Canada.
MacNaughton suggested that Canada is weighing whether to focus on bilateral talks with the US, a strategy that would leave Mexico to bear the brunt of Trump’s protectionist measures. “We will cooperate on trilateral matters when it’s in our interests, and we’ll be looking to do things that are in our interests bilaterally. Some of them may be within Nafta, some may not be,” said MacNaughton, declining to give more details.