By Josh Wingrove
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plans to take up trade disputes with President Donald Trump in Washington on Thursday and meet with congressional leaders on the proposed U.S.-Canada-Mexico trade pact.
Trudeau is set to talk with Trump and U.S. cabinet officials at the White House before meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as lawmakers weigh ratification of the three-country trade deal.
The prime minister will make the case against potential U.S. tariffs or quotas on uranium, a nuclear power plant fuel produced in his country, and American tariffs on softwood lumber, a dispute that predates the administrations of both countries, two Canadian officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Trade relations between have improved since Trump last month lifted steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada, and last November signed a deal on a replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement, known as the USMCA.
Trump and Trudeau also are likely to discuss trade with China, ahead of next week’s Group of 20 meeting in Japan. The president plans to meet with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to restart trade talks after a monthlong standoff and threats by Trump to expand tariffs on goods from the country.
The Trump-Trudeau meeting comes as congressional Democrats have raised objections to the USMCA, and Canada’s Parliament is about to adjourn for the summer without passing a bill to ratify the pact.
Mexico’s Senate on Wednesday ratified the agreement.
Trudeau plans to seek guidance from Pelosi on whether the USMCA can pass the House, and how quickly, according to the Canadian officials. House Democrats met for the first time Wednesday to discuss changes, and Canada has warned it will only advance the deal as quickly as the U.S. does.
“We have an ability to recall Parliament if we need to” to pass the trade deal this summer, Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa. “We will also make sure that we’re monitoring the pace at which the Americans are ratifying the process.”
Trump and Trudeau will discuss measures to strengthen commercial and security ties between the two countries, a senior U.S. administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Officials expected to take part in meetings between the two leaders include Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, one of the Canadian officials said.
Trudeau’s delegation will include his ministers of foreign affairs, finance and defense, as well as his chief of staff and ambassador to Washington, the Canadian official added.
Lighthizer on Wednesday called on lawmakers to pass the USMCA. “I look forward to working with members to make it even better and to write implementing legislation that will earn large, bipartisan majorities,” he said.
Democrats say ratification by August is possible but would be a heavy lift, while Canada has elections in October.
Trump is weighing restrictions on uranium imports under the same law that he applied levies on steel and aluminum, citing a national security concern. American uranium miners Energy Fuels Inc. and Ur-Energy Inc. had complained about “state-owned enterprises in adversarial countries like Russia and its allies,” which could trigger tariffs on other countries, including Canada.
In a joint statement issued through a spokeswoman, the U.S. uranium companies said that Russia and its allies are flooding the global market with artificially cheap uranium.
“We urge President Trump to implement a quota that, in effect, reserves 25% of the U.S. market for domestic uranium,” the statement said. “We support recognizing our allies, like Canada, under the quota system and allocating a segment of the remaining 75% for them.”
Trump has until mid-July to make a decision. The so-called Section 232 tariffs would hit Canada the hardest, as the country is the top source of U.S. imports of uranium. Scott Moe, premier of the uranium-producing Canadian province of Saskatchewan, has lobbied against tariffs imposed on national security grounds. “It is my strong belief that Canadian uranium poses no such threat to our closest trading partner and ally,” Moe said in an emailed statement.
The last U.S.-Canada deal on softwood lumber expired, with a new round of tariffs applied and finalized in 2017. The tariffs remain in place, but U.S. industry needs to approve any deal -- a condition that has previously tied the hands of governments to reach an agreement.
Regarding China, Canada is on the front lines of a U.S.-China dispute over China’s Huawei Technologies Co., which the Trump administration says poses a national security threat. The Canadian authorities arrested Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou late last year, after a U.S. extradition request. China seized two Canadians nine days later. The U.S. has called for the release of the Canadians.