‘The idea that we are somehow a national security threat to the United States is quite frankly insulting and unacceptable.’
In an exclusive interview with NBC's 'Meet the Press,' Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tells Chuck Todd that President Trump's attitude toward its centuries-long ally, Canada, is "insulting."
Following the announcement of the tariffs last week, Canada retaliated with some of its own. The Canadian foreign affairs minister called it “the strongest trade action Canada has taken in the post-war era.” She added that “this is going to hurt America and the American consumer first and foremost.”
JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: I think our approach has been consistent all the way through: recognizing that Canada and the United States have perhaps the most successful economic partnership and alliance and friendship in the modern world. There are no two countries that are as interconnected, inter-dependent. You sell more things to us than to us every year than to UK, Japan and China combined. We -- our economies are incredibly interwoven. And there is an absolute path towards improving NAFTA and doing well on that. The fact that the president has moved forward with these tariffs is not going to just hurt Canadian jobs, it's going to hurt U.S. jobs as well. And neither of those things is something that Canada wants to see.
CHUCK TODD: Your reaction felt as if you felt jilted, as if you felt like Canada got like wait a minute, we have done all of these things for the United States over the years and this is how you treat us. You felt -- it came across as if you felt as if Canada was being taken advantage of.
TRUDEAU: Obviously, we have watched this president operate and worked with him over the past year. And we know that he prides himself on being unpredictable from time to time, so that's not really the crux of it. One of the things that I have to admit I'm having a lot of trouble getting around is the idea that this entire thing is coming about because the president and the administration have decided that Canada, and Canadian steel and aluminum, is a national security threat to the United states.
Now, first of all, the idea that our soldiers who have fought and died together on the beaches of World War II, in the mountains of Afghanistan and have stood shoulder to shoulder in some of the most difficult places in the world, that are always there for each other, somehow this is insulting to them.
The idea that the Canadian steel that's in military vehicles in the United States, the Canadian
aluminum that makes your fighter jets, is somehow now a threat. The idea that we are somehow
a national security threat to the United States is quite frankly insulting and unacceptable.
TODD: What do you feel as if the president wants from you in putting these tariffs out there?
TRUDEAU: I don't know.
TODD: You don't know what he wants here? You don't know...
TRUDEAU: I know...
TODD: Is it about a NAFTA -- you don't have an...
TRUDEAU: The reason I don't know is because he talked about the fact of this -- he is worried about trade surpluses, trade deficits around the world. Well, they have a $2 billion surplus on steel with us, so it's not like the trade is imbalanced against the U.S. favor on this one.
TODD: You said you are going to retaliate. How serious are you? And do you really think you can make a dent? Look, the American economy is a lot larger than -- how can you do this retaliation without hurting Canada more than the United States?
TRUDEAU: Well, we have put forward -- first of all, we're putting the same kinds of tariffs, exactly, on steel and aluminum coming from the United States and to Canada to be directly reciprocal. But we are also putting a number of tariffs on consumer goods, finished products, for which Canadians have easy alternatives, one of the -- either made in Canada or made from another partner. One of the truths about tariffs is they drive up costs for consumers. And on top of that, these tariffs are going to be hurting American workers and Canadian workers.
TODD: Let me go to NAFTA, do you understand what the United States wants in this renegotiation?
TRUDEAU: I think they want a better deal on their auto sector from Mexico, and I think they want more access on certain agricultural products like dairy to Canada.
TODD: Are you willing to give them that?
TRUDEAU: We were moving towards flexibility in those areas that I thought was very, very promising. But the United States wants a sunset clause in NAFTA, which makes no sense. You don't sign a trade deal that automatically expires every five years.
TODD: That's a nonstarter for you.
TRUDEAU: That's a non -- I mean, you think about...
TODD: You won't be at the table if that's on the table?
TRUDEAU: No. You can think about investment. What company is going to want to invest.. if Canada if five years later there might not be a trade deal with the United States. And that, quite frankly, it is probably part of the whole point of the United States to say, well no, we don't want anyone investing in our NAFTA partners, we want people investing in us. But that's not the way trade works. And quite frankly, having, for example, an auto sector that spans from southern Ontario into Michigan has been really an advantage for the North American auto sector to be able to have complementarity here.
TODD: You, I'm sure, probably read with amusement that at a fundraise President Trump bragged about a back and forth he had with you. Let me quote him. He says, "Trudeau came to see me. He said no no no. We have no trade deficit with you. We have none. Donald, please. I said wrong, Justin, you do." And then admits, "I didn't even know. I had no idea. I just said you are wrong." He apparently also mimicked your voice when doing it. But let me ask you this, when you read something like this, and you don't -- can't even agree on the same set of facts. Do you trust negotiation -- do you trust the president as a negotiator?
TRUDEAU: You have mentioned that my father was prime minister. I was raised in a political family. I understand how people say things and people tell stories and people approach things. My approach with this president from the very beginning has been I'm going to focus on what we do and where we go, and quite frankly a year ago when I talked with the president about the possibility of 2-3-2 tariffs steel and aluminum, he agreed that it would be insulting to consider Canada as part of the -- part of the national security concerns. So, for me, that really doesn't make sense.
TODD: I want to ask you one final question, there is a new book out by a longtime aide of former President Obama, Ben Rhoades. And he writes this in the book, he said "Obama, not usually an outwardly sentimental man, attempted to pass a torch, of sorts," and he refers to a meeting that he had with you. "Justin, your choice is going to be needed more, he said, leaning forward and putting his elbows on his knees. You're going to have to speak out when certain values are threatened." You brought this up a little bit that you feel as if -- that you are going to step up in certain ways. What did you interpret what President Obama was trying to pass to you?
TRUDEAU: What I took from it was something that was deeply reassuring and something I have seen all around the world where Canadians are -- people recognize that Canadians -- when we show up either as troops on the ground in a peacekeeping mission, or as aid workers or as bureaucrats trying to rebuild an economy or help a multilateral institution, Canadians are there to help.
We are thoughtful, we are engaged, we are polite, we are welcoming, but we are also firm about our values. We fought like lions on the beaches of World War II, in the trenches of World War I. We step up when we need to.
We're going to be polite, but we are also not going to be pushed around. And that needs to be firm about projecting our values and defending not just our citizens, but citizens around the world in
positive ways is what I consider the responsibility we have as Canadians and what I'll do as leader.