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Ottawa aims to avoid 'collateral damage' in U.S. trade deals

U.S. and Canadian flags are placed side-by-side on the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House in this file photo.

KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS

The Liberal government is weighing whether new trade deals with the United States should exclude Mexico as Canada seeks to avoid "collateral damage" from President Donald Trump's preoccupation with America's southern neighbour.

David MacNaughton, Canada's ambassador to the United States, arrived in Calgary Sunday evening in order to brief cabinet during a two-day retreat that begins Monday.

The ambassador has been closely involved with the initial contacts between Mr. Trump and his team of advisers, and is expected to present the federal cabinet with his thoughts on how the Liberal government should approach the new administration.

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Mr. Trump has clearly signalled that renegotiating the North American free-trade agreement with Canada and Mexico is a top priority for early action.

Speaking with reporters Sunday evening in Calgary, Mr. MacNaughton said his initial talks with the new administration suggest Mr. Trump and his officials are not particularly concerned with the Canada-U.S. relationship.

"They're principally focused on the countries that have large trade deficits with them. … I don't think Canada's the focus at all," he said, but noted NAFTA is clearly up for discussion. "That's what we've got to worry about is that we're collateral damage."

The ambassador said Canada will need to examine when it makes sense to approach trade talks from a North American perspective and when Ottawa should focus exclusively on the Canada-U.S. relationship.

"It's essential that we get a better Canada-U.S. trade, economic and security relationship. Whether that's within an overall NAFTA arrangement, part of that is going to depend on obviously what Mexico's reaction is to what they put on the table," he said.

"I can't speak for the Mexicans. We will co-operate on trilateral matters when it's in our interest and we will be looking to do things that are in our interest bilaterally also. Some of them may be within NAFTA. Some of them may not be. … It's not going to be dull."

The ambassador's comments came as Canada and Mexico announced that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto spoke by phone Sunday.

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According to a statement from the Prime Minister's Office, the two leaders "spoke about the importance of the Canada-Mexico bilateral relationship, and of the trilateral North American partnership."

Mr. MacNaughton told reporters that an announcement regarding the first meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Trudeau will be made soon. He said the location has not yet been determined.

"The Prime Minister and the President have agreed to get together quite soon and whether that's in Canada or in the United States, we haven't finally determined that, but they both agreed when they spoke on Saturday that they'd get together very soon. We're working on confirming it right now so there should be some news on that shortly," he said.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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