Canadian Foreign Minister on Tariffs to Trump: Do You Really Think Canada Is A Threat?

Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland talks to CNN’s Dana Bash about President Trump’s move to impose new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico, and the European Union.

CNN, DANA BASH: Longtime U.S. allies are lashing out and threatening retaliation, as President Trump defends his move to impose steep new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico, and the European Union.

In a flurry of tweets on Saturday, the president said the U.S. can’t lose a trade war and said unfair trade can no longer be tolerated, this as the prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, is calling the new tariffs insulting and unacceptable, and arguing President Trump’s move marks a turning point in the relationship between the two nations.

Here now to discuss the Canadian minister — excuse me — here now to discuss is the Canadian minister of foreign affairs, Chrystia Freeland.

Thank you so much for joining me, Madam Foreign Minister.

Let’s start out with what your prime minister said, very, very harsh discussions, harsh words this past week, saying that there is a turning point now in the Canadian-U.S. relationship.

What does that mean?

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, CANADIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, first of all, Dana, it is very nice to be with you. Thank you for the invitation.

I stood beside the prime minister when he made those statements. And they were strong statements, because I think what it is important for Americans to understand is the justification under your rules for the imposition of these tariffs was a national security consideration.

So, what you are saying to us and to all of your NATO allies is that we somehow represent a national security threat to the United States.

And I would just say to all of Canada’s American friends — and there are so many — seriously? Do you really believe that Canada, that your NATO allies represent a national security threat to you?

And that is why the prime minister said it is, frankly, insulting.

When Ronald Reagan visited Canada in the 1980s, he said, we are more than friends and neighbors and allies. We are kin, who together have built the most productive relationship between any two countries in the world.

That was Ronald Reagan. And that is how Canadians feel. And so this is a really sad time for us. We are hurt, and we are insulted.

BASH: Well, you mentioned the fact that the Trump administration is defending the tariffs citing national security concerns. The reliance on steel from other countries limits the U.S. ability to produce military equipment, should the need arise.

You know, America’s first homeland security secretary, Tom Ridge — first adviser, I should say — wrote in an op-ed. He wrote this: “To rely upon foreign producers to provide for our domestic and military infrastructure, amid such uncertainty, is shortsighted and impedes our ability to be prepared and agile. Steel capacity is not something that can be replaced at the snap of a finger should allies become unreliable or our enemies disrupt the supply chain.”

By way of context, Tom Ridge is no huge fan of Donald Trump. And, also, I think what he and others are arguing is, it’s not so much that they see Canada as a security risk, is that the United States has to be more self-reliant.

FREELAND: Well, look, what I would say there is, this is an unprecedented use of Section 232, which is the national security consideration under which these tariffs are being levied.

As a matter of U.S. law, Canada is considered a part of the national defense industrial base. We have been allies and have been working together for 150 years.

When Jim Mattis unveiled the national defense strategy at the beginning of the year, Secretary Mattis, the secretary of defense, he said something really powerful, which is that history proves that nations with allies thrive.

That is 100 percent true. And so I would just really say to our closest allies in the world, you, the United States, please think hard about the message you are sending to your closest allies.

BASH: Well, in a response to the U.S. decision, you announced a series of retaliatory tariffs, not only on American steel, but — and aluminum, but also a variety of consumer goods, coffee, whiskey, tablecloths. You called it the strongest trade action Canada has taken since World War II.

Are the U.S. and Canada in a trade war?

FREELAND: You know, Dana, I would prefer not to use that kind of bellicose, militaristic language when talking about trade, but this is the strongest trade action Canada has taken since the Second World War.

It is perfectly reciprocal and balanced. So these will be — this will be a dollar-for-dollar retaliation.

Our action is legal under WTO rules, responsively. And I want to point out that the U.S. action which provoked this Canadian response is illegal under the rules of the international trading system.

BASH: So, if you wouldn’t call it a trade war, what would you describe is going on here, that the countries, U.S. and Canada, are imposing new tariffs on one another?

FREELAND: Well, you know what I — a word that I would not use to describe it, Dana, is a trade discussion.

I have now heard a few people, including people you have been interviewing, try to term what is happening between the Canada and the U.S. — and it’s not just Canada — this is also the E.U., this is also Mexico — as a trade discussion.

BASH: So, what is it?

FREELAND: And that is to minimize — that is to minimize something very, very serious.

This is not just about words. This is about actions. And it’s about actions which will hurt everyone, first and foremost, actually, American companies, American consumers. Canada is the single largest market for the United States, larger than China, Japan, and the U.K. combined.

BASH: So, if it is not a trade war and it’s not a trade discussion, what is it?

FREELAND: It is — well, you know, part of the issue here is, it’s allegedly not even about trade, right? We started our discussion describing the extent to which this is allegedly about a national security consideration.

So, i would say it is a very grave difference between the closest allies of the United States and the U.S. around both national security and the global economy and the rules for the global economy.

BASH: Let me ask you a question from the point of view of President Trump.

He made really clear during his campaign that his world view is America first. And he is following through with that by — he pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the TPP, the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal. And now he is doing this.

So, he would ask, what is wrong with putting America first? What is your response?

FREELAND: Well, it is obviously up to Americans and American leaders to judge what are good policies for the American people.

But I can say very clearly that this particular policy, the imposition of tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, is going to hurt Americans first and foremost.

And it is going to hurt all of those American companies that need Canadian steel and aluminum and will now face higher prices, and will therefore be less competitive. It is going to hurt all of those American consumers who will have to pay more.

And the retaliatory measures which we have been compelled to take in response, those will also hurt. And I really regret that, but that is the reality.

We know that beggar-thy-neighbor policies don’t work. That was the lesson of the 1920s and the 1930s. This is now not just about Canada and the U.S. It’s about the U.S. and all of its closest allies.

And I really hope people will take some time to reflect on the lessons of history, and not go down that path again.

BASH: Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, thank you so much for joining me this morning. Appreciate it.

FREELAND: Great to be with you.

BASH: Thank you.

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