• Bilateral talks ramp up as Canada tries to avoid US trade ire

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    OTTAWA: Canadian officials are reaching out to US counterparts in hopes of heading off possible trade disruptions as President Donald Trump prepares to renegotiate or tear up deals that are key to Canada’s prosperity.

    Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan was the latest on Monday to make the pilgrimage to Washington, where he met with US Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

    On Wednesday, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland will follow in his footsteps.

    Ottawa is worried about the impact of US protectionist policy proposals on Canadian competitiveness and a possible flight of corporate headquarters if the United States lowers its corporate tax rate to match or undercut the Canadian marginal rate of 15 percent—which is one of the lowest in the world.

    “Canada is working with the new US administration to maintain our strong bilateral relations,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s spokeswoman Andree-Lyne Halle.

    “Ministers and senior officials contacted their American counterparts by telephone and in person,” she told AFP.

    Sajjan, Freeland, Resources Minister Jim Carr and former general Andrew Leslie (who is now parliamentary secretary to Freeland) all attended Trump’s inauguration in Washington on January 20.

    Since then, Transportation Minister Marc Garneau, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and Trudeau’s national security advisor Daniel Jean have spoken or met with their US counterparts.

    “Other meetings will be organized in the coming days with senior US officials,” said Halle.

    No date has been set yet for a face-to-face meeting between Trump and Trudeau.

    A “war room” has also been set up in the prime minister’s office to deal with any challenges as Trump upends traditional US policies and treaties.

    ‘Innovation is key’
    Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains told reporters on Monday: “Rather than focusing on protectionism we think innovation is the key.”

    According to a readout of Sajjan’s meeting with Mattis, the Canadian minister highlighted their joint defense of the continent through the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which turns 60 next year.

    They also discussed pledges to lead battle groups in support of NATO’s enhanced forward presence in Eastern Europe, commitments to the United Nations, training missions in both Ukraine and Iraq, the fight against the Islamic State group and Canada’s acquisition of 18 new Boeing Super Hornet fighter jets.

    Freeland, meanwhile, has emphasized the importance of a secure Canada-US border “that does not impede the smooth flow of goods and people” in earlier talks with Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state.

    On Tuesday, a panel of senators reminded that “free trade agreements are crucial to Canada’s economic well-being.”

    Canada and the United States trade more than US$600 billion in goods and services annually. Notably around 75 percent of Canadian exports go south to the United States.

    The Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade recommended in a report that there be greater transparency in trade negotiations in order to boost understanding and public confidence in such deals.

    AFP

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