Trudeau has 'window' to settle softwood dispute before NAFTA talks: Raymond Chrétien
Canada can make the case that settling softwood dispute will help U.S. middle class
According to former Canadian ambassador to the U.S. Raymond Chrétien, the Trudeau government has a small window to settle the softwood lumber dispute out of court before U.S. President Donald Trump kicks off his renegotiation of the North America Free Trade Agreement.
The two countries' dispute over softwood lumber goes back years, and in the most recent flare-up the U.S. Department of Commerce has imposed countervailing duties of between three and 24 per cent on Canadian imports.
Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr responded to the tariffs by saying Canada is exploring its legal options.
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- Listen to CBC Radio's The House
But Chrétien, who is also Quebec's lead negotiator on the softwood lumber file, told CBC Radio's The House host Chris Hall that the dispute doesn't have to get that far.
"I'm confident that there's a window, perhaps for a negotiated settlement for the following reason: Mr. Trump has indicated that he wanted a quick ... renegotiation of NAFTA, but this is not possible in my view," he said.
"So why not solve the lumber dispute before you tackle the more comprehensive, complicated NAFTA negotiations?" Chrétien said in an interview airing Saturday.
"So hopefully there's a small window there and I'm sure that in Ottawa they would welcome a softwood lumber deal."
Chrétien, who served as ambassador from 1994 to 2000 and watched NAFTA come into effect, said that between Trump's health-care stumble earlier this year and the potential difficulties involved in implementing his tax reforms, Trump will be looking for a victory on lumber quickly.
Quick NAFTA negotiations unlikely
Chrétien said Trudeau's government can make a consumer case to both U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Trump, because the pair are both businessmen.
"I mean the fact that Mr. Trump wants to help the middle class, and of course our lumber is necessary to keep the housing costs low, so [we must] very much try to make our case in line with his overall desire to help the middle class there," Chrétien said.
On NAFTA, Chrétien said it will take time to work with Congress before revising the agreement.
"In my view NAFTA cannot be renegotiated in a matter of weeks or months," he said.
"I remember the hugely important role of Congress. This is not up to the administration to decide; Congress has the final word on this. What will be the scenario next week, I cannot tell you."