The Spectator’s view: Standing up to Mr. Trump
by Spectator Editorial Borad (feat. John Weekes)
The Hamilton Spectator
January 14, 2018
The Canadian government's decision to drag the United States before the World Trade Organization just as make-or-break NAFTA talks are set to resume will strike some people as poor timing and even worse judgment.
It's like calling the police on a noisy neighbour when what you really want is an invitation to the neighbour's party.
Or, as John Weekes, Canada's former WTO ambassador pointed out, it's "like setting off a bomb in a public square rather than using a rifle."
Well, the fact is that for more than a year, Canada has played nice-guy with the United States even as President Donald Trump repeatedly threatened to end the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Nice-guy hasn't worked.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, key cabinet ministers and supportive provincial premiers have all embarked on diplomatic pilgrimages to the United States to persuade state governors as well as leaders in Washington to keep NAFTA alive.
Yet far from exorcising America's protectionist demons, Canada has seen the U.S. slam Canadian softwood lumber, newsprint and Bombardier jets with crippling new duties.
And the U.S. still has enough poison pills stuffed into the NAFTA negotiations — including a call to scrap the independent dispute settlement process — to leave the trade deal on life support.
So if nice hasn't cut it, why not get tough?
Why not haul the U.S. before the world's trade court?
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and the federal government have done an excellent job of dealing with the Trump administration to date, and under nearly impossible circumstances.
The situation they face in early 2018 demands a courageous, proactive move.
Taking Canada's complaints about American punitive trade sanctions to the WTO, as announced last week, fits the bill.
Of course it will infuriate Trump. What doesn't?
There are risks this decision could push him over the edge and convince him to axe NAFTA. But in recent days, it looks more and more like Trump will walk away from the deal in any event.
We don't have much to lose in adopting a less compliant, more aggressive stance on the trade front.
And we do have all this to gain.
The federal government is showing Canada has a backbone and won't be cowed by Trump.
It's showing Canada is ready, able and willing to defend itself, vital sectors of its economy and the people who work in them against an increasingly navel-gazing American trading partner.
It's demonstrating that while Canada truly wants NAFTA to continue, we're prepared to turn to the World Trade Organization for a fair resolution of trade disputes with the U.S. This option will be especially important if NAFTA fails.
Beyond this, Canada's WTO challenge speaks to the president in the tough, clear and confrontational language he so loves. Perhaps he'll respect the tone, if not the message.
In any event, Canada can resume the NAFTA talks in Ottawa later this month offering reasonable compromise to American demands.
It can speak softly about NAFTA knowing it's carrying a big stick to the WTO.