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Trudeau says Canada will be ‘resolute and firm’ on trade interests

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to questions during a visit to the Don Christian Recreation Centre in Surrey, B.C., on Friday May 19, 2017.


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the U.S. administration has been intent on making itself heard around trade issues that Canada is willing to address, but not at the expense of compromising Canadian interests.

Mr. Trudeau made the point on Friday while taking questions from the media on a range of trade issues during the second and final day of a visit to the Lower Mainland.

The prime minister said Canada is willing to work through trade concerns with the United States, but won't be pushed around on various irritants that have arisen in recent months.

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"We've seen over the past months that the American administration is ready to make a certain amount of noise around trade issues or challenges we face between our two countries," Mr. Trudeau told a news conference at a recreation centre.

"We will be respectful and work constructively with the United States, but we will always be resolute and firm in how we stand for Canadian interests."

He acknowledged the possibility of efforts to "improve and tweak" NAFTA, welcoming discussions on such points as clean energy and intellectual property.

"But I can assure Canadians that we will always defend Canada's interests and ensure that what we are doing is beneficial to Canada and the middle class."

His comments come as U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer this week formally gave Congress 90 days notice of the administration's intention to reopen the North American free-trade agreement.

Also, the U.S. Department of Commerce has slapped import duties of up to 24 per cent on Canadian softwood, arguing that Canada unfairly subsidizes its industry by keeping the price of logging artificially low.

The issue became a point of debate in the recent British Columbia election as BC Liberal Leader Christy Clark, making the case that she is tough enough to look out for the province's interests, urged Mr. Trudeau to consider banning thermal-coal exports through B.C. in retaliation for the measures on softwood. Ms. Clark has also proposed a carbon levy on shipments of thermal coal, which largely come through the province from the United States en route to other markets.

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Earlier this week the Trudeau government made threatening noises to jettison a multibillion-dollar purchase of Boeing Super Hornet fighters if the United States proceeds with damaging trade actions against Montreal-based Bombardier Inc.

On Bombardier, Mr. Trudeau said the government will always defend Canadian companies, interests and workers.

"We strongly disagree with the actions taken by the U.S. Department of Commerce and we are making that very clearly known," Mr. Trudeau said.

At issue is an announcement by the U.S. Department of Commerce that it will investigate accusations from Chicago-based Boeing Co. that sales of Bombardier's new C-series jetliner constitutes dumping into the U.S. market because the plane is subsidized by the Canadian and Quebec governments. It's possible that the investigation could lead to punitive U.S. duties being imposed, by July, on the jet.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has suggested, in a statement of response, that Boeing's complaint is intended to block the jet from the U.S. market.

On softwood, the prime minister dismissed U.S. measures as "unfair" and "punitive" and said they have been futile because "every time the U.S. has done this over the past decades, they have been shown to be wrong."

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Mr. Trudeau did not directly address concerns expressed by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley about B.C. politicians blocking the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion from her province to the Lower Mainland.

The governing BC Liberals support the project, but the election left the province with a minority legislature, pending recounts, in which the anti-pipeline BC Green Party is negotiating to support the NDP. NDP Leader John Horgan is also opposed to the pipeline.

Asked about his views, Mr. Trudeau said there's no longer a choice between the environment and the economy, but both issues have to be managed in balance. "I have had a very positive working relationship with all provinces to move forward on these agendas," he said.

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