Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies MP Bob Zimmer says trade was top-of-mind when he attended a Washington, D.C. prayer breakfast headlined by U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this month.
Zimmer, a Conservative Party member, attended the National Prayer Breakfast Feb. 2 and said he made good contacts in an administration that is skeptical about the merits of free trade.
“We go down there with the role of trade being our number one thing, and we have to be going to breakfast as another event,” said Zimmer, who is chair of the Canadian prayer breakfast. “Canada is (the U.S.’s) number one trading partner, and we want to keep the relationship a good one between both our countries.”
While Zimmer didn’t speak to Trump—he sat around 20 feet away from the podium—he introduced himself to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and raised trade issues with a number of state representatives.
Trump used the occasion to declare that “freedom is not from government, freedom is a gift from God,” and picked a fight with former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger over Apprentice ratings.
More important for Northeast B.C., though, is the impact of a Trump presidency on trade. Early statements from the administration have targeted NAFTA and the Softwood Lumber deal, while Trump has signalled a willingness to expand timber and petroleum production on federal lands, which could reduce demand for Canadian resources.
B.C. exported $4.5 billion in softwood lumber products to U.S. markets in 2016, as well as $3.4 billion in energy products including natural gas, coal and electricity.
Much of B.C.’s natural gas is shipped on the Alliance Pipeline to the U.S. midwest.
Zimmer said Canada needs to be prepared for decreased trade with the U.S., adding the meeting underlined the need for B.C. to diversify its markets though LNG shipments to Asia.
Members of Trump’s transition team said it was too early to comment on trade policy specifics, he added.
“The U.S. wants to be more self reliant on resources, and the president has shown interest in opening up public lands (for development)” he said. “It’s there, it’s a reality, and I don’t fault them for doing that, but Canada just has to be prepared.”
Zimmer’s comments came days before Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Canada would take a “strong offensive position” on trade negotiations. The minister added Canada could respond in kind in the event of a border tax.
At a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Feb. 13, Trump said he favoured “tweaks” to NAFTA instead of a wholesale renegotiation with Canada.