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Letter: N.L. Liberals failing on trade

Talks continue this week among Canada, Mexico and the U.S. on renegotiating NATFA.
(File Graphic)
- SaltWire Network

Since the first settlers hit our shores, trade had been fundamental to driving commerce, economic opportunity and sustainability — especially with our neighbours to the south. In that context, the current state of Canada/U.S. relations, the reworking of NAFTA, and this past weekend’s G7 meetings in Quebec should raise serious concerns for us all. 

Newfoundland and Labrador exports pulp and paper, oil, iron ore, fish (wild and farmed), and other commodities to the United States. Considering how much our economy has already slowed, we should be deeply concerned about a trade war. The consequences for us will not be good.

How did we get here? Well, the original message from the Federal government and the Liberal prime minister was that he had great relationships with the U.S. administration and the new president, and the Federal government had embarked ‎on a “charm offensive” that would put Canada in a strong position for renegotiating NAFTA.

Unfortunately, Ottawa’s approach to date has failed dramatically.

As one example, Trump has imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum. That could significantly affect Newfoundland and Labrador, especially when it comes to iron ore production and new mine developments. Another example is the discussion on supply management related to dairy and other agricultural products. When the prime minister references the possibility of putting this on table, we need to ask questions about the potential impact on our local industries and economy.

In the recent sitting of the House, I asked the premier about the projected legal costs of hiring lawyers to fight tariffs on Newfoundland and Labrador products sold in the US. Some time ago, the estimate was over $500,000. The premier’s answer in April was that the figure had gone up and he would get the number.

We are still waiting for that.

Related story:

N.L. premier calls out U.S. president on trade; new U.S. tariffs stinging on both sides of border

I also asked — in the event of U.S. tariffs — whether the premier would ask Ottawa, the signatory to NAFTA and other trade deals, to foot the legal bill for challenging the tariffs. The premier did not think that option would be pursued.

Recently, however, he signaled that he might accept our suggestion and have the courage to ask his federal Liberals to foot a bill that we are paying as a result of the Federal government’s failed negotiations to date.

Considering how many local commodities Newfoundland and Labrador exports to the U.S., we rely on the federal government to cultivate strong, healthy trade relations with our American neighbours so we can continue to grow our economy for the benefit of our families, small businesses and sustainable communities.

We have not heard any messages from the Liberal governments in this province or Ottawa that give people confidence that they have a plan to make the coming trade negotiations work for the benefit of Newfoundland and Labrador.

We live in hope that a trade agreement that will benefit Newfoundland and Labrador’s economy will materialize. The last thing we need is exorbitant tariffs to outprice our exports in the wake of all the taxes the Ball Liberals imposed in Budget 2016, and with a new carbon tax looming in 2018. The price of doing business here is already far too high. Measures that hurt our competitiveness also hurt the average Newfoundland and Labrador family that relies on trade.

The Ball Liberals cannot tell people the impact of their taxes on the average family’s pocketbook. They are already taking too much. The carbon tax, increased tariffs and trade giveaways will only make matters worse.

That is no way forward.

Keith Hutchings
Opposition Finance critic

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