It was a “family” affair. American Ambassador Kelly Craft and Canadian Ambassador David MacNaughton started their first public speaking appearance together since their countries signed a trade deal with complements, and finished with a hug.
“This is not a marriage, because marriage can end in divorce,” Craft told the Ontario Economic Summit in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., on Friday. “This is family, and family is forever.”
The overtly friendly exchange, peppered with mutual complements and anecdotes about the pair’s close working relationship, was a marked departure from months of tough negotiations punctuated by barbs lobbed by the U.S. administration at Canadian officials.
The new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, now neary a month old, has not fully normalized trade relations between the two nations. Tariffs on steel and aluminum remain as the NAFTA-replacement deal awaits ratification.
Craft characterized the tariffs as “not something against Canada,” and said U.S. President Donald Trump is concerned with protecting his country’s domestic metal production industry.
“Even if all the smelters in the United States started up again, they would only be able to supply 24 per cent of their needs,” MacNaughton countered, referring to aluminum. He added that additional supply would likely have to be sourced from less friendly nations, including Russia and China.
MacNaughton said Trump “made the point on several occasion” during the trade talks that the tariffs are about gaining leverage over Canada, and not U.S. national security.
“I think we will resolve the situation sooner rather than later,” he said of the tariffs.
The ambassadors heaped praise on their respective team’s negotiating skills. Craft acknowledged that the “Team Canada” approach of engaging U.S. state and local politicians in the discussion was “brilliant.”
“I don’t think there is any doubt the Team Canada approach made every difference in the world,” MacNaughton said. “Each of us had grown to take each other for granted.”
Stabilizing Canada-U.S. trade will be key to the economic fortunes of both countries, he said.
“If trade becomes a dirty word, as it has in parts of Canada and the United States, as it has in the last 20 years, we are going to have this trouble.”