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Trump Demands Canada Take Down ‘Trade Barriers’

‘This is not a trade war. It’s a trade discussion,’ says White House economic adviser Kudlow

President Donald Trump said “The United States has been taken advantage of for many decades on trade. Those days are over.” (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump said “The United States has been taken advantage of for many decades on trade. Those days are over.” (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Updated 10:54 a.m. | President Donald Trump on Friday demanded Canada “open their markets and take down their trade barriers!” as he threatened more tariffs against America’s northern neighbor.

Trump alleged in a tweet that Canada has “treated our Agricultural business and Farmers very poorly for a very long period of time,” calling the Canadian government “Highly restrictive on Trade!”

He singled out the timber and lumber industries.

The tweet came after Trump issued a warning to Canadian officials on Thursday evening, saying he could be on the brink of ending talks about revamping the North American Free Trade Agreement.

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“The United States has been taken advantage of for many decades on trade. Those days are over,” Trump said in a statement. “Earlier today, this message was conveyed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada: The United State[s] will agree to a fair deal, or there will be no deal at all.”

His threats and demands come as his administration abruptly slapped steel and aluminum tariffs on its closest allies, including Canada.

Many of those allies announced their intention to retaliate, prompting warnings from Republican and Democratic lawmakers that Trump was on the brink of starting a trade war that could damage the U.S. and global economies.

Trump’s chief economic adviser Lawrence Kudlow on Friday said the U.S. is not in a trade war with its closest allies like Europe, Canada and Mexico. But he made clear that Trump expects those countries to bend toward his policies and demands.

“I’m just saying, ‘Let’s talk.’ This is something of a family disagreement,” Kudlow told CNBC. “This is not a trade war. It’s a trade discussion. But we need the help of our friends. And our model is working. Theirs is not.”

He contended the Trump administration’s economic policies have the U.S. economy humming and growing while Europe is collectively in a “doldrum.”

“We’d welcome the Europeans to follow our lead,” he said, touting the administration’s policies of tax cuts, deregulation moves and push for “fair trade” policies. He called for America’s allies to “engage us in a discussion about a lot of unfair trade practices. They’re our allies — and I know they’d get that.”

After wrapping his interview with his former cable television employer, Kudlow held a lengthy question-and-answer session with reporters in the White House’s steamy North Driveway.

He repeated many of his themes from the CNBC appearance on trade and also tried to bat away criticism of Trump’s Friday morning tweet urging his followers to check out the latest employment numbers. Past presidents have resisted doing so, preferring to allow the Labor Department to release the data — in part to contain any reaction by financial markets.

The economy added a better-than-expected 223,000 jobs in May as the unemployment rated ticked down one-tenth of a point to 3.8 percent, the Labor Department reported.

“Short sellers might have looked at [the tweet] and said, ‘He’s gaming us,’” Kudlow said, noting the president did not tweet out any of the figures that he was briefed on Thursday evening while traveling on Air Force One. “I make a call whether to let him know or not … and I let him know. … No one revealed the numbers to the public.” 

He called it a “therapy thing” when asked why Trump tweeted about the employment figures before their official release.

On the trade dispute, Kudlow criticized European officials for opting against “helping” the Trump administration crack down on China’s trade practices and said the ongoing tit-for-tat could last a while.

“We told them a while ago, many months ago, that we wanted help on these issues,” he said of European leaders. “We wanted help, for example, on China’s crusade to subsidize steel production, corner markets, and ship the steel through all kinds of ports … and therefore drive prices down. … They may give it to us yet. It just hasn’t happened yet.”

He cautioned reporters against expecting a quick solution to the administration trade tiff with many of its closest allies.

“This is a story that’s going to play out for a while,” Kudlow said. “We are open for further discussions.”

And on a matter that would only further ramp up tensions with a close ally over trade policy, Kudlow did not deny a report that President Trump is considering a ban on German automobile imports from brands like Mercedes-Benz and BMW when pressed by reporters. He was given multiple opportunities to shoot down the report, but opted against it.

Despite a row with the Canadian government, Kudlow said senior Trump administration officials still intend to participate in a G7 summit next week in Quebec. But he said it is unclear whether Commerece Secretary Wilbur Ross will go to China as planned for another round of trade talks.

The other world leaders at that summit should “believe the president when he says he wants help on steel production and the world price of steel,” Trump’s chief economic adviser said. “He wants reciprocity. These are important concepts in the trading game.”

He also offered a preview of Trump’s message next weekend in Quebec.

“Lower your barriers, let us export more and more — we will give you the same privilege — and we will grow faster, our workers will get paid more,” he said. “And so will yours.” 

— Doug Sword contributed to this report.