Canada opposition scorns PM move to negotiate trade with Trump

November 16, 2016 4:05 PM EST

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answers questions from Cuban university students at the University of Havana, Cuba November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa


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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was attacked from both sides on Wednesday for telling U.S. President-elect Donald Trump that Canada is open to renegotiating the NAFTA trade agreement, with opposition parties mocking Trudeau for being naive and panicked.

Trudeau, whose Liberals have a parliamentary majority, said last week that "if Americans want to talk about NAFTA, I'm more than happy to talk about it," a day after Canada's ambassador to the United States said Ottawa would be "happy" to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

During his campaign, Trump repeatedly railed against NAFTA as a U.S. job killer, and promised that if elected, he would scrap it unless he could negotiate much better terms for the United States.

Canada opposition leaders, including the right-of-center Conservatives and left-leaning New Democrats, derided Trudeau for being so eager to renegotiate the 22-year-old deal between Canada, Mexico and the United States.

"Why is the prime minister in a rush to open up NAFTA when there (are) so many jobs on the line?" interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose asked in parliament.

Third-party New Democrat leader Tom Mulcair said Trudeau's willingness to renegotiate a trade deal he never before criticized may have been a panicked reaction to the unexpected election of Trump.

"What's his plan? What's his negotiating position? He hasn't been able to explain anything so far, other than the fact that in his very first conversation with Donald Trump, he said, well, let's renegotiate NAFTA," Mulcair told reporters.

The New Democrat leader said it has never been more important to have a prime minister who can stand up to America, given what is "going to be a very strong headwind coming from the American side."

Industry groups have geared up to fight potential hits to Canada's beef and softwood lumber sectors if the new Republican administration targets changes to trade.

Canadian cattle producers will urge Ottawa to retaliate against the United States if the incoming Trump administration imposes a meat label ling program it views as discriminatory, restarting a six-year trade battle, an industry group said on Wednesday.

Trudeau is on a six-day trip to Cuba, Argentina and Peru, but Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains said Canada would work with Trump and the U.S. Congress in the interest of Canadians.

"That is why we are engaged with the new administration, we're going to work with Congress, we are going to make sure we advance Canada's national interest when it comes to trade, investment, when it comes to jobs," Bains told parliament.

(Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Sandra Maler)



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