President Donald Trump visited Wisconsin Thurday to attend Foxconn's cereminial groundbreaking in Mount Pleasant. During the ceremony, Trump gave an extended speech, which ran the gamut of topics - ranging from Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's imminent retirement to trade tariffs with other countries. Trump singled out Canada in particular, saying, "We need to level the playing field."
The Consul General of Canada to the Midwest, John Cruickshank, takes issue with President Trump's claim that the economic playing field is tilted in Canada's favor.
He says, "There are no absolutely no facts that would support that, and he doesn't raise any. We have had fair and extraordinarily balanced trade under NAFTA and prior to that under the FTA, the Free Trade Agreement that we originally did in the 1980s.
Many Canadians, including himself, see the president's comments as merely a negotiating tactic, acknowledging that Trump often overstates a case to reach a desired end, Cruickshank says.
Specifically, President Trump complained of Canada's 270% tax (Trump himself said "275%" in his speech) on dairy products imported from the United States. According to Cruickshank, however, the Canadian tariff on dairy, which is based on a quota system and actually increases to more than 270% for some products, has a more complicated history than the simplistic picture painted by President Trump.
The tax on dairy imports from the United States, Cruickshank says, was negotiated as part of NAFTA and other trade packages because Canada wanted to protect their family farms and consumers from big swings in the price of milk and other goods. "If you look at the overall tariff level in Canada as compared to the overall tariff level in the US, Canada is slightly lower than the US."
But, he says, when they made those two trade deals, Canada gave up more than the US because they came down from higher tariff levels.
Wisconsin dairy farmers, Cruickshank asserts, still hold about a 5 to 1 trade advantage in dairy sales over Canada. Outside of the dairy industry, he says, "[Wisconsin] has a very substantial surplus with Canada in almost every area, including services." Rather than the dairy demons Trump portrays them to be, Canadians should be seen as Wisconsin's best customers, Cruickshank adds.
The consul general also takes issue with the steel and aluminum tariffs levied on Canada, and asserts that the tariffs are illegal under both the World Trade Organization and the NAFTA agreement. He believes the United States will be found to be afoul of the law with respect to trade.
"There will be a deliberation," Cruickshank says. "These things will go to some kind of tribunal. And the US will be found to have violated its own laws. And so what Canada has done is say, 'All right, we don’t like this, but we’re going to take some countervailing measures'."