Amid Trade Dispute, G-7 Summit Will Be 'Very Awkward,' Ambrose Says

Jun 8, 2018
Originally published on June 8, 2018 8:24 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It is called the Group of Seven, but it is looking more like six against one as the G-7 summit opens in Quebec today. Leaders of Canada, France, the U.K. and other top economies are furious after the United States imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Canada and the EU hit back with their own sanctions on U.S. goods. But that has done nothing to deter the Trump administration from pursuing its, quote, "America First" trade policy.

President Trump tweeted Thursday, (reading) getting ready to go to the G-7 in Canada to fight for our country on trade. We have the worst trade deals ever made. And that was followed by a tweet in which Trump said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was being, quote, "indignant" over trade issues.

Joining me now from the city of London, Ontario, is Rona Ambrose. She's the former leader of the Conservative Party in Canada. She now sits on Canada's NAFTA Advisory Council.

Welcome to the program.

RONA AMBROSE: Thank you.

GREENE: So how awkward is this summit going to be?

AMBROSE: (Laughter) Awkward.

GREENE: Yeah?

AMBROSE: It is going to be very awkward. And you're right, we're calling it - first we started to call it the G-6 plus one. Now we're just calling it a pile-on...

GREENE: (Laughter).

AMBROSE: ...Or the six-on-one debate. Everybody's calling it something different. But there's no doubt that your president, President Trump, has rewritten the global trade agenda. And it's affecting everyone. But I think, here in Canada, we're feeling - taking it a little more personally. We're trying not to. But the reality is you are our biggest trading partner, our largest competitor but also our biggest ally, closest friend.

So to get tweets like yesterday where President Trump called our prime minister indignant when all he was doing was reminding Americans and the White House of the long-standing, historical friendship, you know, shoulder to shoulder in battle...

GREENE: Right.

AMBROSE: ...For many, many years, many decades - and, of course, our huge trading relationship, which is so important for both our economies.

GREENE: I suppose President Trump was making the point that this might be a trade dispute but that doesn't necessarily mean that the relationship is in shambles. And he was suggesting that Trudeau was sort of exaggerating. I mean, does Trump have some point there?

AMBROSE: You know what? I think he does have a - you know, when I'm advising our government and one of the things - and I think they agree - is to say, don't overreact. Let's not overreact here. This is a moment in time, and let's remember what the political context is here. The political context is one in which President Trump has a domestic political agenda. He has his "America First" trade agenda. And none of us should be overly surprised by these tariffs, to be frank.

We've been hit by aggressive trade action by the United States right since President Trump was elected - here in Canada - whether it was through softwood lumber, then it was our aerospace sector. Now it's steel and aluminum. You know, we won't be surprised if he comes after our dairy sector and potentially even tariffs on our auto sector. Though he...

GREENE: Has it all had an effect? Has it all had an impact so far in what's happened?

AMBROSE: Of course. Absolutely. Absolutely, it's had an impact. We're a small economy. We're a huge country geographically, but we are a small economy. And we absolutely rely on trade. We do not have the size of the internal economy of the United States of America, so it has an impact on our economy. I can give you a couple examples. You know, our latest survey of businesses that do cross-border trade - 25 percent of those businesses said they were thinking of relocating in the United States because of the uncertainty around potential tariffs.

GREENE: Relocating from Canada into the U.S. And 25 percent...

AMBROSE: Yes.

GREENE: ...I mean, that's a significant number. I guess I just wonder - you have said in the past that the U.S. strategy might be to create economic uncertainty because it's a good strategic position to negotiate. Have they actually succeeded if that's the case?

AMBROSE: I think they have. And that's the problem with all of this, is that we only have so many levers to pull. And we're pulling them. So we're hitting back with tariffs, retaliatory measures against the United States and against the U.S. economy. We're doing it as strategically as possible - hitting certain states, hitting certain districts that we know are swing states, trying to at least exert some political pressure. But the reality is we cannot sustain a trade war with the United States of America because you're such a bigger economy.

And I think - and I've believed this right from Day 1 - that President Trump is creating trade uncertainty with, I think, the intention of having the exact result that he's getting, which is not just Canadian business or businesses located in Canada but businesses located all over the world wanting to make sure that they have direct access to the biggest market in the world. So you know, the result of that is - we should locate to the United States and bring jobs to America. So you know what? To some extent, it's working.

GREENE: Well, all right. Rona Ambrose. She's the former leader of the Conservative Party in Canada.

Thanks for being with us.

AMBROSE: No problem. Good to talk to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.