WASHINGTON—U.S. President Donald Trump boasted again on Tuesday of successfully threatening Prime Minister Justin Trudeau into NAFTA concessions, claiming that Canada wasn’t “nice” to the U.S. on trade until he intervened and “made them nice.”
Trump made the comments at a Republican dinner in Washington. He seemed to believe his rambling speech was private, musing at one point about the possibility that it would “leak.” In fact, it was being filmed by the media.
“Canada’s very, very tough. You know, we love Canada. We think of the beautiful song and the ice hockey games. O Canada, isn’t it beautiful. But in the meantime they knock the hell out of us on trade, and they have been doing it for a long time, and they’re very tough, and they’re not at all nice about that situation. But we’ve made them nice. We’ve made them nice,” he said.
“And they’re not happy about what happened, but our farmers are gonna be able to sell now into Canada, which they were restricted from doing.”
Canada was the number-one export market for U.S. farmers in 2017, according to data from Trump’s own administration, purchasing $20.5 billion worth of American products. Trump seemed to be referring to Canada’s protected dairy market, which he pressured Trudeau into opening slightly to U.S. farmers.
Trump has delivered various trade-related jabs at Canada during his presidency, though his rhetoric has warmed since the two countries and Mexico agreed on a new NAFTA deal. Trump previously called Canada “brutal” and “very spoiled.”
In remarks obtained by the Star last year, during the negotiations, Trump told reporters “off the record” that he was pressuring Trudeau into NAFTA concessions by displaying a photo of the Oshawa-made Chevrolet Impala, a threat to impose tariffs on imported Canadian cars.
The story changed slightly in his Tuesday remarks. This time, he claimed he had emphasized the tariff threat by calling Canadians into the Oval Office and showing them “a little plastic car.”
“Every time I had a problem, I would just take, you know, especially cars — I had a little plastic car on my desk, and I’d have the leaders come over and I’d just take the car out, put it on the front of the desk, they say: ‘OK, we agree.’ Because the big thing is the cars. Canada’s sending us tremendous numbers of cars, they’re practically untaxed, and yet they don’t take our agricultural product,” he said.
Trump spoke as his administration struggled to earn congressional support for the new NAFTA deal. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on him earlier Tuesday to reopen the talks with Canada and Mexico to address her party’s concern about the enforcement of labour provisions.
Trudeau’s government has also been making demands to Trump, suggesting that the House of Commons will not hold a ratification vote until the president lifts his tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum.
Trump is still contemplating tariffs on imported cars and auto parts, but Trump agreed in the new NAFTA deal to effectively exempt Canada from any such tariffs.
Daniel Dale is the Star’s Washington bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @ddale8