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Opposition parties have been assailing the Trudeau government for announcing its willingness to discuss reopening NAFTA with president-elect Donald Trump. (DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail)
Opposition parties have been assailing the Trudeau government for announcing its willingness to discuss reopening NAFTA with president-elect Donald Trump. (DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail)

Liberals play down NAFTA renegotiations, say deal will only be ‘tweaked’ Add to ...

The Trudeau government is trying to reassure Canadians that they shouldn’t fear demands to renegotiate NAFTA from a Donald Trump administration, arguing it would only amount to “tweaking” or slight edits to the deal.

That’s despite a memo obtained by CNN that shows Canada’s softwood-lumber and livestock producers are being targeted by Mr. Trump’s transition team, which is advising the president-elect to extract terms more favourable to the United States in these areas in a renegotiation of the North American free-trade agreement.

Furthermore, a senior Liberal MP responsible for trade said, the Trudeau government will be able to successfully stickhandle any requests for changes because it has already demonstrated it is good at trade negotiations.

Read more: Trump team flags Canadian livestock and lumber as targets in NAFTA reset

David Lametti, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of International Trade, attempted to play down a possible renegotiation of NAFTA.

“It is clear that with time, treaties occasionally need to be tweaked. We are prepared to do that in good faith,” Mr. Lametti told the House of Commons Wednesday.

“This is a normal part of the process.”

Opposition parties have been assailing the Trudeau government for announcing immediately after Mr. Trump’s victory that it is willing to discuss reopening NAFTA, which has been in effect for more than 20 years.

“Two specific industries, beef and lumber, are in the cross-hairs. Why is the Prime Minister in a rush to open up NAFTA when there is so many jobs on the line?” interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose asked.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair echoed the sentiment.

“How can the Prime Minister put an entire trade deal on the table before he says anything to Canadians about what he is looking for?”

Mr. Lametti, however, said his government has already proved it is adept at trade negotiations, citing the Canada-European Union trade deal signed just last month. It had been negotiated by the Harper government, but was stalled because of lingering concerns in Europe before the Liberals revamped it and secured EU approval.

“As a government, our record on international trade is impeccable. … We opened the beef markets in China and Mexico. We brought back CETA to its conclusion,” Mr. Lametti said.

“We will negotiate in good faith with our American partners.”

The Trump transition memo leaked to CNN outlines a plan for the new president’s first 200 days in office. It shows on Day 1 he would begin an effort to reshape NAFTA – which he promised during the campaign he would “entirely renegotiate” or “terminate.”

The memo says Mr. Trump would order studies on the ramifications of withdrawing from NAFTA and what would be required legislatively. It also says Mr. Trump would instruct his U.S. trade representative to notify Canada and Mexico that the United States intends to propose amendments to NAFTA that could include lumber and country-of-origin labelling.

The Trump transition team has zeroed in on two of the most contentious trade issues between Canada and the United States.

A costly new softwood-lumber war – with huge tariffs on Canadian lumber – is due to erupt any day now between the two countries. And the country-of-origin dispute is a battle Canada only won last year at the World Trade Organization and which had cost this country about $1-billion a year. The matter centred on U.S. meat-labelling rules that required foreign beef and pork to be sold with stickers detailing its origin. U.S. feedlots and packing plants had been required to keep Canadian livestock and meat separate.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau struck a similarly sunny tone Wednesday, saying he is confident of finding a “win-win” solution on difficult trade issues, including softwood lumber and livestock, with Mr. Trump.

“We will work together with the incoming United States administration to ensure that we create opportunities for Canadians … And you know, we’re confident that we’ll get to a place that’s better than we are now,” he said Wednesday after speaking at the UBS European Conference in London.

Separately, Canada’s ambassador to the United States says trade has become a dirty word south of the Canada-U.S. border. David MacNaughton told a business lunch crowd in Montreal that anti-trade protectionists are feeling emboldened by Mr. Trump’s election. He said Canada must work harder to educate Americans on the benefits of NAFTA.

With reports from The Canadian Press

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