By Jason Koutsoukis (Bloomberg) — As the U.S. and China edge closer to a full-blown trade war, Canada has urged all nations to act to preserve the pillars of the world trading system.
“We need to cherish the organizations that have been the cornerstone of the world economic order,” Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said in an interview in Singapore on Saturday.
Speaking after several days of meetings to strengthen ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, whose 10 members represent Canada’s sixth-largest trading partner with annual merchandise trade worth about $17 billion, Champagne said plans by U.S. President Donald Trump to impose tariffs on a wide array of Chinese imports threatened the stability of the international trading order.
“We have all benefited from the world trade order that was put in place after the Second World War, including the U.S.,” Champagne said. “All of us need to take a step back and take a look at what we’ve achieved over the last few decades.”
He said Canada remained engaged at the World Trade Organization to “work alongside other nations to make sure that there’s order” in world trade.
After the Trump administration on Thursday announced short-term tariff exemptions on steel and aluminum imports from allied nations including Canada, Champagne said Canada was working to ensure that the exemption became permanent.
“For us, these tariffs were unacceptable and unwarranted from day one,” Champagne said, adding that the sunset clause on the exemption was “unwelcome.”
“We’re going to be working with our U.S. partner to make sure this exemption is permanent,” he said.
Champagne also emphasized that Canada would be extremely vigilant to prevent transnational shipping of steel and aluminum into the U.S. through Canada, a key concern of the Trump administration.
“Canada is not the problem, Canada is the solution,” Champagne said. “We are going to be extremely vigilant, we’re going to be a partner in a solution in that with our U.S. allies.”
After Canada recently signed the 11-nation trade pact known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, Champagne said he was now working toward ensuring the agreement was ratified and came into force as soon as possible.
The CPTPP agreement, he added, was an important moment not only for the member countries, but “for the world to make sure that we write the rules of trade for the next few decades.”
With Canada reliant on the U.S. for more than 70 percent of its exports, he said there had “never been a better time” for Canada to diversify.
“Today what really matters is the size of your market access,” Champagne said. “I never refer to Canada as a country of 36 million people. Rather as a country that has preferential market access to 1.2 billion consumers and soon to be 1.7 billion.”
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