Several premiers heading south of the border to counter anti-trade sentiment

By The Canadian Press
May 25, 2017 - 12:45pm

WINNIPEG — Several premiers are heading to the United States capital next month to push back against anti-trade sentiment south of the border.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says he and several other provincial leaders are to spend June 5-7 in Washington, D.C., to promote the benefits of free trade. He said the trip was prompted in part by President Donald Trump's attempts to change or even scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"We have to do our best to promote a better understanding south of the border of the (trade) relationship," Pallister said Thursday.

"I think it demonstrates clearly to the representatives from around the United States who — whether they are directly involved in the meetings or not — that we value the relationship, that we consider it important and that they should too."

Staff for Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant and Prince Edward Island's Wade MacLauchlan confirmed Thursday those leaders will attend as well.

"The focus will be on trade generally, with NAFTA taking a front-row seat and 'Buy America' to a degree," read a written statement from Wynne's office.

"(Wynne) would be there with her colleagues to build relationships with key members of the administration, as well as members of Congress, and to discuss the mutual benefits of an interconnected economy and the good jobs that creates for both Americans and Ontarians."

Canada is trying to counter a rising tide of protectionism in the U.S. Trump has criticized NAFTA and threatened to scrap the three-country trade pact if it can't be renegotiated to his satisfaction.

The federal government, which is not involved in the June mission, has mounted an information campaign aimed at Trump and his cabinet — as well as Congress and state and local governments — to underline the mutually beneficial trade between the countries.

The Trudeau government has repeated the talking point that 35 U.S. states call Canada their top customer, while nine million Americans depend on Canada for their jobs.

Pallister would not specify who the premiers plan to meet with. He said the aim is to make sure the benefits of free trade are heard well beyond states near the Canadian border.

"We've already reached out to our neighbouring states and I have initial assurances that they understand the value of that (trade) relationship very well in the border states. But it's of course getting that communication across to others in the United States who may be a little less, in their area, aware of the mutual benefits of our relationship."

B.C. Premier Christy Clark has not yet decided whether to join the trip and is looking to see how much it might focus on the trade dispute over softwood lumber.

"We're just kind of watching to see whether it’s worth going to," Clark spokesman Ben Chin said.

"We’re ... looking at the quality of the meetings that are taking place to see whether they are softwood-focused enough and whether they are meetings with people we can get access to."

— With files from Laura Kane in Vancouver, Allison Jones in Toronto and Michael MacDonald in Halifax.

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

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