Canada can both defend its national economic interests and its values, foreign minister says

Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland talks to the Wall Street Journal’s Elena Cherney at the PPF Growth Summit, April 20, 2017. (Martin Lipman/PPF)

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says the Canada-U.S. relationship is strong despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s escalating threats in recent days about Canadian trade practices.

“Every day’s a new and interesting day,” Freeland acknowledged to chuckles from the audience at the Public Policy Forum’s recent economic growth summit.

“But I feel very good about the relationships that we have been developing with the United States.”

Video: Watch the full interview

Her remarks came on the same day that Trump branded Canada’s treatment of American dairy farmers a “disgrace.”

Trump also raised “what’s happening along our northern border states with Canada, having to do with lumber and timber.” (Days after this talk, the U.S. commerce secretary was expected to levy countervailing duties on Canadian softwood lumber).

“What does the U.S. administration want from Canada?” the Wall Street Journal’s Elena Cherney asked Freeland during their Q and A at the summit.

Freeland was sanguine, noting that there have been more than 180 meetings between Trump administration officials and Canadian representatives since the president’s inauguration in January, and that there’s a “whole-of-government” approach in place that entails regular contact between Canadian and American officials.

“Notwithstanding some of the rhetoric that we occasionally hear, I do really feel like we’ve developed very good lines of communication and I’m confident,” she said.

She also defended Canada’s dairy producers in the face of the recent Trump onslaught.

“Our dairy market is in fact more open to imports than the U.S. market is,” she said.

“We are fully compliant with all our NAFTA and WTO commitments …. We are very comfortable with our position and I think that trade lawyers will agree with us.”

Cherney asked Freeland about her relationship with her American counterpart, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

She responded that Tillerson was engaged and open to suggestions about Russia at the recent G7 foreign ministers meeting in Italy. The summit took place shortly after the U.S. missile attack on Syria, and just before Tillerson’s visit to Moscow.

“It was a very effective and useful meeting,” she said, describing how those at the table urged Tillerson to take a message from the G7 to Moscow “to try to apply some pressure on Russia for its behaviour in Syria.”

Freeland said Tillerson felt strengthened by the G7 meeting, although he told his colleagues he didn’t expect the Russians to change their public stance on Syria based on one conversation with him.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland talks to the Wall Street Journal’s Elena Cherney at the PPF Growth Summit, April 20, 2017.

Cherney asked Freeland if she believed there was any chance the Russians would heed the G7’s message on Syria.

“The chemical weapons attack can represent for Russia a turning point and an opportunity to get out of a not-great situation,” Freeland replied, referring to Syria’s recent gassing of its own citizens that left more than 80 people dead.

“There is an opportunity for Russia, which I really hope that (President Vladimir) Putin will take, to join with the western countries, and also a lot of Arab countries, in pushing for a truly negotiated solution in Syria to end what is the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time.”

Canadians could have a role in negotiating that solution, she added.

“Canada has tremendous credibility,” she said.

“The fact that we were not part of the war in Iraq is significant,” she said.

So is “the fact that we have taken such a big step in welcoming Syrian refugees to our country … and the fact that as a country we are saying that we stand up for Muslims, we stand up for Muslim-Canadians,” Freeland said to applause.

Freeland was asked if the differences between Canada and the U.S. on those issues could have a detrimental impact on the trade relationship. Canada can both defend its national economic interests and its Canadian values, she said.

“I really think it’s possible to do both; there’s not a contradiction there, and I think people respect us more when we stand up for our values.”

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