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Liberals failing on trade

Premier Dwight Ball made an announcement regarding new long-term care beds and an upcoming ambulatory care unit at the Carbonear General Hospital on Tuesday afternoon, June 12th.
Premier Dwight Ball. — SaltWire file photo

Since the first settlers hit our shores, trade has been fundamental to driving commerce, economic opportunity and sustainability — especially with our neighbours to the south. In that context, the state of Canada/U.S. relations, the reworking of NAFTA, and the recent G7 meetings in Quebec should concern us all.

This province 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 that the federal government had embarked ‎on a “charm offensive” that would put Canada in a strong position for renegotiating NAFTA. Unfortunately, Ottawa’s approach has failed dramatically.

As one example, Trump has imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum. That could significantly affect N.L., 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 N.L. products sold in the U.S. 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.

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 signalled 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 N.L. 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 there is a plan to make the coming trade negotiations work for the benefit of N.L.

We live in hope that a trade agreement that will benefit N.L.’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 N.L. 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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