The Slatest

Why Is Trump Bashing Canada All of a Sudden?

Got my eye on you. 

Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Mexico, President Trump’s usual favorite punching bag, isn’t the only U.S. neighbor on the receiving end of the president’s ire this week.

That tweet comes a day after Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced a new 20 percent tariff on Canadian softwood lumber imports, a move denounced by Canada as “unfair and unwarranted.”  Why are we so mad at Canada all of a sudden?

The dairy dispute is fairly wonky, though undoubtedly important to farmers on both sides of the border. Basically, Canadian dairy farmers were upset that ultra-filtered milk from the U.S., used to make cheese and other products, was being imported to Canada in the same category as milk powder, which has low tariffs. So last summer, the Canadian government reclassified ultra-filtered milk as regular milk, which is heavily taxed. Some U.S. politicians, notably New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, have accused the Canadian government of protectionism—trying to box out American dairy farmers so that Canadian dairy farmers can sell more at home. Canada says the U.S. is producing too much milk, flooding the global market.

It seems like Trump became aware of the issue last week while visiting Wisconsin, where a local processor recently told farmers it was canceling its contract with them because it had lost its Canadian business. In a speech at a factory in Kenosha, Trump said:

“We’re going to get together and we’re going to call Canada. And we’re going to say, ‘What happened?’ And they might give us an answer but we’re going to get the solution, not just the answer.”

As for the lumber dispute, the issue there is that U.S. manufacturers argue that Canadian producers receive an effective government subsidy because their timber is grown on public land, as opposed to the U.S. where the land is mostly private. So now the U.S. is going to charge Canadian lumber more on its way into the U.S.

Canada is the second-largest U.S. trading partner, and these are the sorts of issues that come up, though usually not via the president’s Twitter account. What’s interesting is that the administration seems to be taking on these disputes piecemeal, rather than focusing on renegotiating NAFTA, a centerpiece of Trump’s campaign. Ross, the administration’s point-person on NAFTA, has expressed frustration at Congress dragging its feet in granting the president authority to renegotiate the treaty and confirming a new U.S. Trade Representative.

So, for now, the president appears to just be trying to make political hay over individual trade disputes. This presents a tricky political challenge to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. For all that he has been presented at the dynamic and tolerant anti-Trump, Trudeau has also been doing his best to win the favor of the administration, backing Trump on issues like the Keystone XL pipeline and signaling his willingness to renegotiate NAFTA. It’s going to be harder to strike that balance if Canada continues to find itself on the receiving end of Trump’s Twitter tirades.