Rice Meets Canadian Prime Minister
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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is visiting Canada this week and for the Canadians a major issue is lumber imports. They're still upset over a US decision not to respect a ruling made under the North American Free Trade Agreement. Richard Reynolds reports from Toronto.
RICHARD REYNOLDS reporting:
The last time Condoleezza Rice was to come to Ottawa she canceled at the last minute. The State Department insisted it was a scheduling conflict, but everyone in Ottawa presumed it was a snub because the Canadian government had decided the week before not to participate in the US ballistic missile defense program.
This time around the tone probably won't be much better. Canadians are still furious over what they believe was an abrogation of NAFTA, the US refusal to three successive rulings under NAFTA that say the US has unfairly slapped duties on imports of softwood lumber from Canada.
On the airplane coming to Ottawa, Secretary Rice said that she was hoping to negotiate an end to the dispute. But Prime Minister Paul Martin maintains there will be no negotiations.
Prime Minister PAUL MARTIN: That is not negotiable. We're not going to begin with a negotiation on a win. We won that.
REYNOLDS: When Rice had dinner with the prime minister last night there was a lot more on the plate than just a lumber dispute. The US is concerned about border and other security issues. Canadians are upset that the US wants them to have a passport to cross the border beginning in 2007, something Canadian citizens have never needed. And Canadians are worried about American guns. Canada has very strict gun control laws, but Toronto has seen an explosion in gun violence in recent months. Police believe that nearly all the guns are being smuggled in from south of the border.
Prime Min. MARTIN: The Americans ask us to do things in terms of the border. I think that there's an obligation on their side to work with us to prevent gun smuggling into Canada.
REYNOLDS: But softwood lumber does remain the biggest irritant in bilateral relations. Martin has been suggesting that he would start running ads in the US pointing out that Americans pay $1,000 more for a new house because of the duty. He's also made suggestions that Canada may favor India or China when it comes to Canada's large oil supplies. This country is the largest provider of crude oil to the US. Stephen Clarkson is a political scientist at the University of Toronto.
Mr. STEPHEN CLARKSON (University of Toronto): Martin is trying to get their attention. He's suggesting that there might be consequences if they continue to follow the letter of NAFTA, not just the spirit. And certainly, the five-letter word, China, really gets Americans' attention these days.
REYNOLDS: The threats over energy are weak since Canadian law makes it clear that Canada will not play favorites with oil. The US also has certain guarantees under NAFTA regarding energy, which may be why Martin is making these threats. In the end, despite Martin's strong words and calls from many in Canada to retaliate against the US, there are now signs that back-room negotiations have already begun in Washington. But Clarkson says this is the best time to get tough since he believes that at present the US has little political credibility in Canada or the rest of the world.
Mr. CLARKSON: So it's not just a question of disagreeing on Iraq or missile defense. It's almost anything that the Bush administration does is seen to be suspect. So if there were any time for the Canadian government to get tough with the United States, this is it.
REYNOLDS: Martin took office 18 months ago promising better relations with the US after they had badly soured under his predecessor. But today, Clarkson and most experts here believe that relations are just as bad as they were under Jean Chretien. For NPR News, I'm Richard Reynolds in Toronto.
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