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Kelly Craft is the U.S. Ambassador to Canada

There is a saying in the United States that when the president asks you to serve your country, there is only one answer: yes.

When President George W. Bush asked me to serve at the United States Mission to the United Nations in 2007, I was honoured to accept. Fast forward to 2016, when then-president-elect Donald Trump asked if I would serve as Ambassador to Canada. I was honoured to accept. Of all the diplomatic postings, Ottawa is one of the most consequential and coveted. My family and I began to learn everything we could about the U.S.-Canada relationship ahead of my arrival last fall.

I have been on the steepest and most rewarding learning curve of my life. Each of my predecessors has been immensely gracious in offering guidance and advice about how best to take on the challenge of representing our country in Canada. Each of them said that it was the honour of a lifetime. I could not agree more, even on the toughest days – and there have been a few of those lately.

Here is my perspective on the current state of U.S.-Canada relations.

In the past 10 days, our embassy honoured U.S. university students who served as interns for us as well as for members of Parliament. We then welcomed U.S. senators and representatives, along with Canadian parliamentarians, who were getting ready to roll up their sleeves and spend a weekend in frank, productive dialogue through the Canada-U.S. Interparliamentary Group. To top it off, we joined a Kentucky trade mission promoting cross-border business opportunities, and hosted dozens of Canadians to the SelectUSA Summit in Washington. Meanwhile, our White House colleagues were signing a memorandum of understanding with Canadian counterparts reaffirming the bilateral commitment to regulatory co-operation.

Each of these events came at a time when many on both sides of the border are rightly concerned about how our bilateral relationship is faring. My message is that, in ways large and small, our relationship continues to thrive. Americans and Canadians are working together, as we always have, and we must also listen to each other.

Rest assured, I am listening to Canadians. They are letting me know loud and clear how concerned they feel about the state of the trade sector that is so central to the bilateral relationship.

Americans and Canadians tell me they want free, fair, and reciprocal trade. The global trading system has brought a measure of stability to international commerce and provided vast opportunities for both our countries. Yet, despite our best efforts, there are some areas that need major improvement.

The United States helped expand a liberal trading system to countries that did not necessarily share our values. The result, in many cases, is lots of rhetoric about free trade but only selective adherence to the rules. The World Economic Forum’s most recent Global Enabling Trade Report suggested the United States had the worst access to foreign markets of any advanced economy, and ranked 130 out of 136 in terms of average tariffs faced by its exporters. Clearly, our efforts to level the playing field have come up short.

Take, for example, the Global Steel Forum. Over time, this forum has attempted to address persistent market distortions that make it difficult for American and Canadian companies in certain sectors to compete fairly on the world stage. But those efforts did not prevent global overcapacity that has eroded our domestic industry to the point where only one steel mill makes material required for basic but critical infrastructure like transformers. Hence the President’s proclamation on May 31 about the importance of keeping the U.S. domestic steel and aluminum sectors economically sustainable.

The Canadian reaction to the national security basis for U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum has been particularly forceful. I get it. Almost every day I witness first-hand the extraordinary cross-border partnership we have forged to address threats to our common values. That is not what this is about. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has clearly stated that Canada does not pose a security threat to the United States; rather the current measures are aimed at a global problem that requires a global response.

In explicit recognition of our important security relationship with Canada, the President provided a temporary exemption – ultimately extended to June 1 – to find alternative ways of addressing the global security challenge, including through a revitalized North American free-trade agreement. The entire U.S. negotiating team has been working hard, and patiently, with our Canadian and Mexican counterparts to create an agreement that matches our ambitions for the North American economy. We have closed multiple chapters that modernize the agreement in critical ways. And we have tackled some issues that have elicited strong opinions from those invested in the status quo.

Despite our best efforts, and persistent, high-level engagement, we were unable to conclude negotiations by June 1. But we continue to talk, and I am confident that if we reach a deal on NAFTA, we can address the steel and aluminum challenge in a mutually satisfactory way.

The U.S.-Canada relationship has weathered disagreements in the past. We move past those disagreements when we pursue outcomes that are good for people on both sides of the border.

Even when we disagree, we Americans appreciate and respect our Canadian friends and neighbours. We know we need each other. We know we are two strong countries that are even stronger together. Let’s make sure we keep talking with, and not past, each other.

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