As Trump attacks, Canada goes to Plan B: same as Plan A

FILE PHOTO: Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a news conference in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, May 31, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Wattie/File Photo

OTTAWA – US President Donald Trump’s blistering attack on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has driven bilateral relations to their lowest point in decades and left Ottawa with few options for averting a trade war with its much bigger neighbor.

Trump blew apart a G7 summit in Canada over the weekend, blasting Trudeau as “very dishonest and weak” and raising the prospect of tariffs against auto imports, a move that would imperil the Canadian economy.

His unexpected and extraordinary attack flummoxed Canadian officials, who have waged an 18-month campaign designed to cultivate allies among U.S. policymakers and business leaders in defense of Canada’s interests.

People close to the situation said they were disappointed the outreach had not been as productive as they hoped. The dispute weighed on the Canadian dollar on Monday.

Ottawa has promised to retaliate against Washington’s imposition of tariffs on metals imports from Canada, the largest supplier of steel to the United States. But Canada would face long odds winning a trade war against a country 10 times its size economically and which takes the majority of its exports.

“There is a limit to what we can achieve in Canada. The only people capable of persuading Trump to stop this are in the United States, but they have not hit anything like top gear,” said one person close to the matter.

In a sign of how limited their options are, Canadian officials said they planned to press harder with their U.S. lobbying campaign, focused on potentially sympathetic lawmakers outside the White House, while relying on support from allied nations and hoping Trump does not carry out all his threats.

Officials have stressed the two countries’ extensive trading relationship and pointed out that Canada is the top export destination for 35 U.S. states and that 9 million jobs in the United States depend on trade with its northern neighbor.

On Sunday, White House economic adviser Peter Navarro, who said there was “a special place in hell” for Trudeau, criticized the government’s outreach campaign, saying the Canadians should “spend more time at the bargaining table and less time lobbying Capitol Hill and our press and state governments.”

Canada’s limited options mean “there is no magical Plan B,” said University of Ottawa international affairs professor Patrick Leblond.

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