Canada is not the main target in U.S. trade focus: Blackstone’s Schwarzman


Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman speaks during an interview at Schwarzman College of Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, September 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Canada is not the main target of U.S. President Donald Trump‘s push to renegotiate the NAFTA trade accord and is unlikely to be hit hard by any changes to the deal, the head of a business advisory council to Trump said on Monday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet are holding a two-day retreat in Calgary, Alberta to discuss U.S. ties. Trump wants major changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has enabled Canada to send 75 percent of its exports to its southern neighbor.

“Canada is very well-positioned for any discussions with the United States,” Stephen Schwarzman, named by Trump to a lead a forum that includes a variety of major U.S. corporations to advise on job creation, said after addressing the cabinet.

Schwarzman is chief executive of U.S. private equity firm Blackstone Group LP. He does not have a formal role at the White House.

“I don’t think he should be enormously worried because Canada is held in very high regard,” Schwarzman said, referring to Trudeau. He added that the risk of Canada suffering collateral damage from the NAFTA talks was low.

While noting bilateral trade was “very much in balance,” Schwarzman said Trump was more focused on the big trade deficits the United States was running up with some nations. Trump has often noted Mexico and China as problems.

Schwarzman’s message will undoubtedly please Canadian officials, who have been trying hard to persuade the new U.S. administration that focusing on their border to the north makes no sense given how closely the economies are linked.

In a reflection of deepening ties between the two governments, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, will travel to Calgary for talks on Tuesday, according to a source who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the matter.

Trudeau’s leadership team is meeting in the Alberta city less than two weeks after the prime minister shuffled his cabinet to put his top minister in charge of the U.S. relationship with a focus on the best approach to take with Trump, who was inaugurated on January 20.

Trump said on Sunday he plans talks soon on the NAFTA trade accord, under which Canada and Mexico send the majority of their exports to the United States.

The challenge of dealing with Washington comes at a sensitive time for Trudeau, who is facing probes into a vacation he took with the Aga Khan as well as his centrist Liberal Party’s fundraising activities.

He is also under fire from Kevin O’Leary, a television personality running for the leadership of the opposition right-leaning Conservative Party, who says Trudeau is too weak to stand up to Trump.

By David Ljunggren

(Editing by Paul Simao and Alan Crosby)

(This story has been edited by Kirk Falconer, editor of PE Hub Canada)

Photo of Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone Group LP, courtesy of Reuters/Jason Lee

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