Christy Clark slams Trump on trade, warns of 'poisoned' relations

B.C. Premier Christy Clark is taking presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to task for his anti-trade stance — equating it with building a wall between the U.S. and Canada.

Donald Trump has called NAFTA a 'disaster' that 'shouldn't exist,' worrying the B.C. premier

B.C. Premier Christy Clark chided Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump for his anti-trade talk, and called for Americans to take action on a softwood lumber deal by summer's end. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

B.C. Premier Christy Clark is taking presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to task for his anti-trade stance — equating it with building a wall between the U.S. and Canada.

"It's not helpful when down in the States there are serious presidential candidates who are talking about building a wall between Canada and the United States. Trade barriers are just another kind of wall," Clark said in an interview with Chris Hall on CBC Radio's The House.

"I'd remind Americans that America was never made great, and no American president is remembered as great, because he built walls."

The comments come as Canada and the U.S. are still haggling over a new softwood lumber trade agreement. Clark said Friday that she's hopeful the two sides can craft a deal by summer's end before presidential politics heat up further.

"We need to see a little bit more movement from the folks south of the border," she said. "Whenever the softwood lumber deal doesn't work out, it poisons all the trade relationships between our two countries. American presidential candidates on both sides of the political spectrum are talking about putting up more trade barriers, reverting back to protectionism, that's going to be just terrible for Canadian jobs, and American jobs."

Trump has previously called NAFTA a "disaster" that "shouldn't exist," adding he would either cancel the deal or renegotiate it so he can enact tariffs to protect American jobs.

Clark is critical of the anti-trade stance the U.S. presidential front-runners have taken over the course of the primaries. (Tom Pennington, Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

"I'm going to rip up those trade deals and we're going to make really good ones," Trump said during a campaign stop in Maine in March.

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton has also struck an anti-trade tone in recent months. She came out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement after being pushed to the left by her opponent, Bernie Sanders, in the primary.

Clark, for her part, has been a vocal defender of the TPP, urging Canada to sign the deal or be "shut out" of foreign trade.

Softwood deal by summer's end

Clark, who faces re-election next year, commended International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland for working "overtime" in pursuit of a softwood lumber deal.

Freeland, and her U.S. counterpart, Michael Froman, have said there will be a "structure" of a softwood deal by the end of June, in time for President Barack Obama's visit to Ottawa for a Three Amigos summit with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.

The previous softwood lumber agreement expired Oct. 12, 2015, but included a grace period that prevents the U.S. from launching any trade action against Canadian producers for one year.

The original deal to revoke U.S. trade barriers against Canadian lumber was signed in 2006 and renewed in 2012, after years of dispute at the World Trade Organization and an estimated 9,000 to 10,000 job losses for the Canadian industry.

More than $4.5 billion in tariffs were eventually returned to Canadian exporters. Since then, export charges have been levied on Canadian products when the lumber price dropped below a certain amount.

U.S. lumber companies oppose the import of softwood, claiming Canadian companies have an unfair advantage with their preferential access to Crown-owned lands with lower stumpage fees. 

Clark slams federal environment assessments

The B.C. premier also took aim at the federal environment assessment process for delays around the Pacific Northwest LNG pipeline, which will be designed, built and owned by TransCanada. If constructed, the pipeline would transport natural gas from the Interior to a processing terminal near Prince Rupert for export to Asia. The project's biggest proponent is Petronas, the Malaysian state-owned oil and gas company.

"Imagine: you want to make the biggest single investment in Canada — largest private sector investment in the history of Canada — and you can't get out of the environmental process," Clark said of the $36-billion project. "We had a provincial environmental process that approved it with conditions. It took 180 days. The federal process has taken a thousand days."

Clark conceded there will likely be federal conditions imposed as part of the review process, but the project's proponents are eagerly awaiting some sort of guidance to get the money flowing.

Clark addresses the LNG in B.C. Conference in Vancouver in October 2015. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

"For heaven's sake tell us what the conditions are. Let's get it in and out of the process in a timely way," she said, noting the project has the approval of First Nations along the pipeline's route.

She also called natural gas the cleanest fossil fuel, and a key component of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

"You're moving a product that will have, if it's spilled into the water or onto the land, minimal impact, it's environmentally sound."

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