Trump advisers press for dairy concessions ahead of Freeland’s arrival

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OTTAWA — Two of Donald Trump’s top lieutenants are turning up the heat on the Trudeau government to open up its protected supply-managed dairy industry as Canada returns to the NAFTA bargaining table.

The pressure comes one day after the U.S. president again blasted the Canadian dairy industry during his announcement of a trade agreement with Mexico that he said could replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Trump imposed a Friday deadline for Canada to come on board, which is when the administration plans to give Congress its mandatory 90-day notification of the new trade deal.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Larry Kudlow, the director of the president’s National Economic Council, said in separate interviews Tuesday that concessions from Canada on dairy are essential to getting a three-way deal by Friday.

“They may have some problems with the kinds of concessions we need,” Ross told the Fox Business News program Mornings With Maria.

“They’ve been very bad to our farmers, particularly to our dairy farmers. The president has made clear that’s not something that’s agreeable to him.”

Kudlow told the Fox show Varney and Co. that Trump would “love” to make a deal with Canada. But he said it has to be “a good deal which is in the interests of the American economy, the American workforce, American farmers.”

Ross and Kudlow took to the U.S. airwaves hours ahead of the expected arrival in Washington of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s top negotiator and other senior officials, where they are set to resume talks with the U.S. and Mexico.

On Monday, Trump piled on his with his long-standing criticism of Canadian dairy, saying: “You know, they have tariffs of almost 300 per cent on some of our dairy products, so we can’t have that. We’re not going to stand for that.”

Trump then dangled the possibility of imposing harsh auto tariffs to punish Canada. The Commerce Department is currently investigating whether to impose tariffs of 25 per cent on Canadian autos under national security provisions in U.S. trade law.

The Trudeau government has repeatedly pledged to protect dairy farmers, but Canada has opened up limited access to its dairy market in previous trade talks, including its comprehensive pact with the European Union.

Dairy is a politically charged issue that many analysts have predicted would be among the final issues settled in the NAFTA renegotiation.

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Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press