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David MacNaughton, Canadian ambassador to the U.S., speaks April 8 at the annual meeting of the North American Agricultural Journalists in Washington, D.C. Photo taken April 8, 2019, in Washington, D.C. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)

Canadian ambassador: We need USMCA, Trump approach ‘disruptive’

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Canadian Ambassador David MacNaughton was blunt: Canada is an excellent neighbor and ally, and a crucial trading partner. But the Trump administration's "disruptive" approach to trade threatens that, to both countries' risk.

He urged that the United States Mexico Canada Agreement, the successor to the North American Free Trade Agreement, be approved quickly.

"I can't understand why you want to say no to an improvement in the status quo," he said.

MacNaughton spoke April 8 in Washington, D.C., during the annual convention of the North American Agricultural Journalists, which has members in both Canada and the United States.

The terms of USMCA has been approved, but the agreement still must be ratified by the U.S. Congress and the British and Mexican parliaments. The new agreement has a number of changes favorable to U.S. agriculture, including new grain grading standards, and the U.S. should take that into account, MacNaughton said.

U.S. policymakers also need to remember that Canada "is the largest market for U.S. products. You sell more to us than you do to China and Great Britain combined," he said.

Canada also cooperates closely with the United States on military matters, national security and law enforcement, he said.

"We're the best neighbor you could possibly have," he said.

Nonetheless, the U.S. has imposed tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum under what MacNaughton described "as the guise of a national security threat," he said.

U.S. officials want continued Canadian cooperation on important international issues, but at the same time, America pursues trade policies to which Canada objects. That's causing "real irritation and befuddlement" in Canada, MacNaughton said.

Despite their long, close ties, Canada and the United States have had many differences through the years, often involving agricultural policies. MacNaughton, asked by Agweek to put current differences in historical perspective, said that personal relations between top U.S. and Canadian leaders are exceptionally good.

"I consider Secretary (of Agriculture Sonny) Perdue a friend," said MacNaughton, who has held his post for two years.

But those positive personal ties don't always translate into U.S. trade policies to Canada. "The attitude of this (Trump) administration is disruptive. They view disruption as part of his style," MacNaughton said.

For their part, Canadians "want to continue as a strong partner for prosperity with the United States," MacNauughton said. "I hope we can get this behind us really quickly. But the longer it continues, the more stresses and strains it puts on" the U.S./Canadian relationship.

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