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Trudeau directs senior ministers to combat U.S. protectionism

He instructs International Trade Minister Mary Ng to “lead Canada’s efforts to combat protectionism, unfair trade practices, and economic coercion around the world.”

“You will also engage the United States to address bilateral trade issues and protectionist measures, including with respect to government procurement and in the automotive, energy, and agricultural sectors,” Trudeau writes to Ng.

He also directs her to help ensure “full and fair compensation to supply-managed sectors” under the renegotiated North American free trade agreement, USMCA.

The backdrop: Canada’s business community has been voicing deep concerns about the advance of U.S. protectionist policies ever since Biden’s arrival in the White House.

Major sticking points include Biden’s proposed electric vehicle tax incentive — which has led to threats of reprisals from Canada — and a dispute over potatoes from Prince Edward Island.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration warned Canada could face trade retaliation if it passes a digital service tax that discriminates against U.S. internet giants like Google and Facebook. Trudeau’s mandate letter Thursday to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland doubled down on Canada’s plans for a digital tax.

The newer U.S.-Canada frictions are in addition to longer-running — yet still very relevant — spats over softwood lumber and dairy.

More on defending Canada: The prime minister’s mandate letter to Freeland also appears to nod at American protectionist policies around procurement.

He directs her to “protect Canadian supply chains and ensure that Canada’s trading relationships are mutually beneficial economic relationships.”

Trudeau calls on Freeland to work with Ng “to introduce a reciprocal procurement policy that will ensure goods and services are procured from countries that grant Canadian businesses a similar level of market access.”

Ng has also been assigned to continue working to position Canada as a global leader on critical minerals — and to secure supply chains — by working with international partners through the implementation of the Canada–U.S. Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration and the Canada-EU Strategic Partnership on Raw Materials.

Quick background on the letters: The last time Trudeau posted a complete set of brand new mandate letters was December 2019, a few months after his Liberals won reelection.

In January 2021, following a Cabinet shuffle, he released supplementary mandate letters for his ministers — in large part to reflect how much the Covid-19 pandemic had altered his government’s objectives.

The new mandate letters copy and paste many of the Liberals’ campaign promises from Canada’s most recent federal election, back in September.

The release of the letters is a big event for the Ottawa bubble and beyond because of how they zoom in on a government’s priorities. In the past, policy experts, interest groups, journalists and public service workers have plunged into the contents to the point that, back in 2019, the prime minister’s website crashed after they were posted online.

Here are highlights from key Cabinet portfolios on POLITICO’s radar:

Chrystia Freeland — Deputy Prime Minister and Finance

Trudeau directs Freeland to deliver in an area long sought by Canada’s business community — “driving a plan for long-term economic growth.” The Trudeau government has been accused of lacking a true growth agenda and of focusing instead of redistributing government funds.

To help her get there, Trudeau has asked Freeland to establish a permanent “Council of Economic Advisors” to provide independent advice and policy options on long-term economic growth.

On Tuesday, Freeland signaled in her fall update that she will…

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