BY BILL PHILLIPS
There seems to a never-ending string of federal cabinet ministers heading to Washington D.C. these days.
The federal strategy for dealing with the new Trump administration seems to be one of direct lobbying of U.S. lawmakers, or at least meeting with them and making sure they know that Canada exists and that it is the U.S.’s largest trading partner.
Could the strategy be paying off? Canada was referenced twice, both favourably, in President Donald Trump’s speech to Congress this week.
However, the real proof of success will be whether the protectionist rhetoric of the new president manifests into actual trade sanctions. Softwood lumber will be the first test, says Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen.
“Softwood lumber is what immediately comes to mind when you’re talking about our trips,” Cullen said. “That’s how we’re going to know.”
A U.S. ruling on possible duties on softwood lumber is expected this month and expectations are that duties as high as 30 per cent could be levied against softwood heading south. Cullen said cabinet ministers meeting with U.S. counterparts is a good move because it’s difficult to get a handle on the new administration.
“It’s not like one we’ve ever seen before, in terms of policy and the way they do things,” Cullen said. “It’s incredibly unpredictable, erratic and, I would argue sometimes very dangerous.”
Cullen said he has some sympathy for Canadian cabinet ministers, but he’s also concerned about how the softwood lumber issue has been handled here in Canada.
“They announced a softwood lumber task for last week … this has been a known problem for two years now,” he said. “Certainly the first year-and-a-half of Trudeau’s government. They’ve kind of been asleep at the switch on this one. They don’t seem to seized with it.”
Cullen pointed out that softwood has been identified by the U.S. lumber lobby as a target for trade action and the Canadian government should be taking more notice.
“Trump not, obviously not into many global trade deals, has cited softwood lumber as a place where he wants to demonstrate his strength,” he said. “The proof will be in the pudding, if Mr. Trudeau can settle out the softwood lumber deal then these trips are worth it. If the U.S. hits us with their illegal tariffs again, then all this has been for show.”