Blog

The Hon. John Baird

December 2, 2016 by Speakers' Spotlight

U.S. Administration Likely to Approve Keystone XL Pipeline, Former Minister Says

As Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird demonstrated his leadership on the world stage by championing freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Holding the position in the cabinet of Prime Minister Stephen Harper from 2011 to 2015, Mr. Baird had previously served at the federal level as President of the Treasury Board, Minister of the Environment, and Minister of Transport.  This week, Baird spoke in Edmonton about the future of Canada-U.S. relations under President-Elect Donald Trump:

The protectionist policies of U.S. president-elect Donald Trump create a huge challenge for Canada as it tries to resolve trade concerns, former Conservative cabinet minister John Baird says.

The populist leader has called for changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and vowed to slap big tariffs on Chinese and Mexican products, Baird told a luncheon Thursday in Edmonton sponsored by law firm Bennett Jones.

“We have in the White House someone who will be a very tough negotiator, and not just when he arrives at the negotiating table, but in the run-up to those negotiations,” the one-time foreign affairs minister said.

“He will be unpredictable, and he will be incredibly tough … Canada has a trade surplus with the United States that’s not insignificant, and there’s going to be a lot of pressure on that.

Baird, who praised the federal government for refusing to be pulled into the American election and for offering to work with the new administration on Trump’s stated goal of reopening NAFTA, expects the derailed Keystone XL pipeline to be approved.

But he also sees trade disputes ahead, notably on softwood lumber.

The U.S. lumber industry filed a petition last week asking the American government to impose duties on Canadian imports to offset the harm it claims is caused by subsidies following the expiry of a 10-year agreement on the issue in 2015.

“Now that the U.S. Lumber Coalition has come forward, I expect that will be a much tougher challenge to resolve, because (Trump) won’t have either the inclination or, frankly, even the capacity to throw Canada a favour.”

Another concern is a likely renewed push for country-of-origin labelling, a requirement to identify beef and pork imported into the United States from Canada and Mexico that to the dismay of protectionists was withdrawn by Congress last year.

“We took it to the WTO (World Trade Organization) and we won … but when NAFTA gets reopened I think that’s something that the Americans will want to reopen.”

Allan Gotlieb, Canada’s ambassador to Washington in 1981-89, told the luncheon he’s also concerned about what will happen with the decades-old softwood lumber dispute when many Americans now feel “foreigners are not treating us fairly.”

“(Trump) isn’t exactly a predictable creature, but I don’t think he can be subsumed under the category of being right-wing or anything else. I think he’s very opportunistic.”

Baird predicted the incoming president’s “unorthodox” approach will test the apparatus of government.

“The relationship with the president is always personally on the PM’s shoulders. I think this will be a big test for the prime minister. It will be tough. It will be a significant challenge, as it will be, frankly, for just about every world leader.”

Gordon Kent/Edmonton Journal/December, 2016