Trade Negotiations Are Over, But The Damage To U.S.-Canadian Relations Is Done

President Trump got his revised version of NAFTA, but Canadians are less positive about the United States than they have been in at least twenty years.

The United States and Canada may have successfully concluded the negotiation for NAFTA 2.0 — excuse me, the U.S.M.C.A. (cue the Village People) — but the bad feelings remain and it seems unlikely that even the stereotypically polite Canadians are going to simply forgive and forget:

TORONTO — He called his relationship with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada “testy.” But President Trump put that down to heated trade negotiations only.

Now that the newly named deal was settled, things between the two men — and by extension, two countries — were supposedly rosy again.

“We’ve always had actually a very good relationship,” Mr. Trump told reporters gathered in the Rose Garden on Monday.

If you swept a microphone across the length of Canada at that moment, the sound recorded would have been of eyeballs rolling. Millions of them.

Canadians are mostly relieved that Nafta 2.0, now called the U.S.M.C.A., was signed and that Mr. Trump’s threats of economic ruination for their country are over. But if he thinks the argument with his neighbor is all patched up, then he is terribly wrong.

“The president insulted our country, our prime minister and even our chief negotiator,” said Frank McKenna, a former premier of New Brunswick and a former Canadian ambassador to the United States.

“He not only used rude language, he threatened our economic welfare,” Mr. McKenna said. “And he seemed to do it with great glee. People won’t forget that. I think that’s now deep in our psyche — the way we were treated by this president.”

The months of negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement delivered increasing shocks to Canadians, who have long thought of themselves as the beloved — if somewhat ignored — little sibling of their superpower neighbor.

Sure, many Americans couldn’t place Canada’s capital, Ottawa, on the map or name the country’s prime minister — a hit television routine was predicated on this benign ignorance — but that was largely accepted as proof of a relationship so strong that it could be taken for granted.

Despite being a country of just 36 million, Canada is the biggest source of international travelers to the United States, its closest military ally and the biggest importer of American goods.

Many Canadians, who touted their relationship with Americans as the most successful partnership in the world, feel that the special bond is gone — or at least frayed.

“We think we understand the United States, or thought we did,” said Janice Stein, the founding director of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. “That relationship is gone.”

Bill Anderson, the director of the University of Windsor’s Cross-Border Institute, a research organization across the river from Detroit, said there was still hope that relations could be repaired eventually.

“There’s a kind of disappointment, but most people expect things to get better,” he said. “Down here on the border, the bond is more personal than political.”


Canadian historians say there is a rich history of frosty relations between American presidents and Canadian prime ministers.

The most famous display of anger, said Robert Bothwell, a professor of Canadian history at the University of Toronto, was after Canada’s Lester B. Pearson, a Liberal and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, called for a suspension of the bombing in Vietnam by the United States, in a speech in Philadelphia. The next day, he visited President Lyndon B. Johnson at Camp David.

Mr. Johnson was so enraged that he reportedly lifted Mr. Pearson by his lapels, while bellowing, “You pissed on my rug.”

But that was not made public at the time. And it certainly wasn’t trumpeted by the president himself.

“There’s been disagreement, yes, but never public abuse like this,” Professor Bothwell said. “Even Woodrow Wilson would have thought it was just ungentlemanly. There really is no precedent.”

This all started, of course, with the President’s inexplicable actions regarding trade with Canada that clearly are not based in anything approaching common sense or reality. Back in May, Trump revoked the exemption from the steel and aluminum tariffs that had been announced back in March that applied to American allies in Europe as well as Canada and Mexico. In doing so, the President made the rather bizarre claim that he was acting in the name of “national security,” a claim that is so utterly lacking credibility that it’s a wonder anyone at the White House has been able to repeat it while maintaining a straight face. These tariffs remain in place notwithstanding the fact that the Not does Canada share the longest peaceful border in the world with the United States, but Canadian soldiers have fought alongside their American neighbors on battlefields ranging from France and the Pacific during World War II to Korea, the Persian Gulf, and Afghanistan. Canadians opened their homes to stranded Americans on September 11th when they were unable to fly home after the attacks in New York City and Washington. And, of course, Canada and the United States have shared responsibility for the air defenses of North America since the start of the Cold War.

More importantly, the economies of the United States and Canada are so intertwined that they are, to a large degree, inseparable. Last year, our total goods and services trade with Canada amounted to just about $673.1 billion dollars, including exports totaling $ 340.7 billion and imports totaling $332.3 billion, leaving the United States with a trade surplus with Canada of $8.4 billion, which is consistent with the trade surplus we’ve run for many years. (Source) This compares favorably to our trade relationship with ChinaMexicoJapanSouth Korea, TaiwanAustralia, and the United Kingdom. Beyond this, Canada has been a massive source of tourism for the United States and American companies and their Canadian subsidiaries, especially in the auto industry, have been so intertwined as to effectively function as one. When it comes to trade and business, the United States and Canada not only have a strong trading relationship but what effectively operates as a single market that benefits businesses and consumers on both sides of the American-Canadian border. Claiming that Canada is somehow a threat to American national security is, to be frank about it, insane.

Not surprisingly, this development didn’t go over very well with our neighbor to the north. Canada’s Foreign Minister called the new tariffs “absurd,”  Things got even more bizarre in this regard as Trump exchanged harsh words with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prior to the G-7 Summit. Once he was at the summit, Trump essentially did everything he could to alienate America’s closest allies, thereby seemingly achieving a goal that Russia and, before it, the Soviet Union had only dreamed of, driving a wedge between the United States and its allies. After the Singapore Photo Op Summit, Trump continued his tirade against Trudeau, while polling revealed that Canadian public opinion about the United States was suffering as a result of American actions and the President’s rhetoric. In support of that contention, one can also point to a recent Pew Research poll, showing that only 39% of Canadians have a favorable view of the United States, the lowest number that poll has seen since Pew began polling Canadians in 2002.

None of this means that relations between Canada and the United States are headed for something approaching hostility, of course. Whatever the personal feelings of President Trump and Justin Trudeau may be, the extent to which the interests, economies, and militaries of the two nations are far too intertwined for anything such as that. Additionally, notwithstanding the differences between the leaders and Ottawa and Washington, the United States and Canada continue to run along parallel courses and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. This is why, despite the fact that it at times appeared to be difficult, the negotiations that led to NAFTA 2.0 the two sides were ultimately able to reach an agreement. These aspects of our relationship will continue and likely grow, in the coming years simply because that is what is in the national interests of the United States.

Notwithstanding all of that, though, it’s clear that the relationship will continue to be strained as long as the American President continues acting like this, at least as far as Canadians are concerns. As the linked article above notes, Americans tend not to think much about Canada despite the fact that it is our closest ally, and it’s probably the case that many Americans would be surprised to learn how much the events of the past two years have impacted how we are viewed by our friends north of the border. It’s really quite unfortunate, but we’ve got only ourselves to blame.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Economics and Business, International Trade, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    The United States accomplished something amazing in the post-war world: we imposed a Pax Americana that has seen zero major wars involving western powers in more than 70 years. 70 years of peace in Europe barring some mini-wars in the Balkans. 70 years of a peaceful Japan.

    Because of the largely benign way in which we rebuilt the world following the Nazis and the Japanese imperialists, and because of our willingness to defend Germany and Japan from the USSR even at risk to ourselves, we have been the most trusted and admired nation in the world.

    Until Trump.

    We are no longer trusted. We are no longer admired. Our president is held in lower regard than Chairman Xi, and far below Angela Merkel. This has real-world consequences as Africa is en route to being a Chinese economic colony, and the world shrugs off Chinese atrocities and Chinese adventurism. Trump has created a huge power vacuum into which Mr. Xi moves. Trump’s crudeness will make it harder to negotiate basing rights in Japan and South Korea. Trump’s screw-you belligerence to allies means that on our next little war we’ll be alone. And we will have less access to foreign intel, and will thus be more vulnerable to terrorism.

    Trump is the living, breathing symbol of American decline, and its catalyst. Countries around the world asking themselves whether they’d rather do business with a stable and reliable Xi, or an unstable and laughably ignorant Trump, have an easy answer. An isolationist, xenophobic America invites and encourages the rise of hostile powers like China and Russia. We will pay a price for this and for what? For what advantage? What gain?

    Further the manifest imbecility of 46% of the electorate discredits the very idea of democracy. Why in God’s name should the Polish or Hungarian regime trust its voters when the world’s pre-eminent democracy has failed?

  2. @Michael Reynolds:

    And the MAGA-hatters and the sycophants, sellouts, and cowards in the GOP are letting it happen even though there are plenty of them who know better and know what dangers we are headed for.

  3. An Interested Party says:

    Now we have better trade deals with Canada and Mexico…

    Good grief, you’re a gullible idiot…these new deals aren’t much different than the old one, but keep deluding yourself, MAGA dumbass…

    And we certainly appear to be heading towards peace on the Korean peninsula.

    Oh, you mean how much these two megalomaniacs love each other? Charming…delusional, but oh so charming…

  4. Kathy says:

    Hey, if you can’t alienate two close neighbors in order to do some minor updates to a trade deal, and to add a fraction of what existed on a trade deal you rejected, whom can you alienate?

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @TM01: I am more than a little surprised you have the brain capacity for breathing oxygen. A loss for the rest of us.

  6. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @An Interested Party: Worse than that North Korea says no denuclearization without the lifting of sanctions. Apparently things on the NK front are not going as swimmingly as he thinks (why am I not surprised?).

    The wisest over all position to take seem to be to simply assume that Trump is always lying or delusional and that the people who vote GOP (and the “good people” of the Conservative Movement) don’t care. From there people who might be able to usher in some sort of sea change need to keep track of the effects of Trump’s lies/delusions so that they can argue for the change at a later date (hopefully before the house of cards falls). As citizens, we might start asking ourselves what consequences we need to look out for. Not a good situation and as plans go pretty threadbare, but I’m just an ignint cracker.

  7. Slugger says:

    Any actual Canadians out there? What do you think about this? Que pensez-vous? In practical terms, I guess this improves things for America’s dairy farmers. What are economic concerns of typical Canadians? I suspect that you guys have always thought that the USA would be smart to outsource governance to any random three people in Labrador; has this changed?

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Remember when Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize simply for not being George W Bush?

    They are going to have to create a whole new prize for the President who follows trump.

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Slugger: I had relatives in Canada and spent a season working their fishing and hunting camp. In general Canadians do not think much of Yanks and mostly wish we would throw a Jonestownian koolaide festival with required attendance for all Americans.

    We’ve always been the dickish next door neighbor who plays the music far too loudly at all hours, day or night, drinks way too much and picks fights with any one who crosses their path. Oh yeah, and our dogs always shit in their yard too.

  10. wr says:

    @An Interested Party: “Good grief, you’re a gullible idiot…these new deals aren’t much different than the old one, but keep deluding yourself, MAGA dumbass…”

    And in the ways that they are different, they are essentially identical to those Obama’s administration negotiated for the TPP.

  11. wr says:

    @MBunge: “Oh, and he also cares more about the feelings of 37 million Canadians than he does about the feelings of the 63 million Americans who voted for Donald Trump in 2016.”

    The 1930s German version of Bungles was busy writing “Mataconis cares more about the feelings of a few million Poles than he does about the feelings of the many millions of Germans who support our Fuhrer.”

  12. HarvardLaw92 says:


    I’ve got to hand it to you – until I began to read your performances (and that’s what they are) – I never knew that fellatio could be written.

    (We’re still better than you 🙂 )

  13. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    Canada and Mexico are two of the best assets that the United States could have. There are beautiful binational metropolitan areas in the border, and that allows a pretty impressive supply chain, maybe the best and most impressive supply chain in the Western Hemisphere.

    More people should be grateful for that instead of whining about two great neighbors.

  14. Just nutha ignint cracker says:


    (We’re still better than you )

    Not that high a bar to jump. Beware of Hubris–she’s a big a bitch as Karma is.

  15. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I just enjoy tweaking his nose. He has an enormous chip on his shoulder about “elites”.

  16. An Interested Party says:

    He has an enormous chip on his shoulder about “elites”.

    This despite the fact that the scumbag he fellates on a daily basis is also an “elite”…

  17. A. Ladd says:

    As an ‘actual’ Canadian I can tell you that this Canadian has watched this entire episode with considerable astonishment. The US prez creates a fictional problem and then comes up with a far more complicated, less workable agreement (with a new name – that he picked, and thinks is wonderful) and declares that he’s fixed it and the US ‘won’! Wow. Excuse me if I am underwhelmed.

    The vitriol that Trump hurled across the border was apparently just ‘his way of bargaining’. I do business transactions (M&A) for a living, I can tell you that’s not how to do a deal properly. It’s a lousy way of doing a single business transaction, let alone a multi-country, multi-dimensional, long(ish) term, trade agreement. Not only is NAFTA 2.0 inferior to NAFTA 1.0, it failed to achieve it’s (poorly) articulated goals. Regarding dairy trade with Canada, (Trump’s trade Cri de coeur) the US currently has a trade SURPLUS with Canada in dairy. Canada currently buys some 6 to 7x from the US, compared to what Canada sells in to the US (roughly $800mm vs $150mm – source = US trade stats). Steel & aluminium trade is relatively balanced (before tariffs). Canada is the US largest customer and a critical supplier to the US industrial base. Where do you want to go next? Canada buys roughly the same number of cars as it exports to the US. For example, I have three cars – 1 built in Canada with primarily Canadian, Mexican, US, and Japanese parts, the other is a US built Honda product, the 3rd is a US-built Ford product – with about 45-50% Canadian parts, 25-30% US parts, and the balance from Mexico and Asia. What about the amount of Agricultural products Canada buys from the US? How about the number of Canadians that go to the US south in the winter? (that is actually considered an ‘export’ for the US) What about the US services surplus with Canada? How about the tariffs that the US puts on to Canadian softwood lumber – because the US lumber lobby says that we under charge for stumpage fees. We don’t. The US has lost that trade issue in front of the WTO and NAFTA tribunals (about 4-5x I think). So, how do you think Canadian’s now feel about the US? Disillusioned doesn’t begin to cover it. Frustrated? Closer. In a polite Canadian context, we are ‘not amused’. Now that’s really serious! During this entire (pointless, unnecessary) episode the US has insulted, berated, and (attempted to) humiliate your best customer, your most reliable (and secure) supplier, and your (now former) best ally. Not very smart. The US will regret this foolish endeavour. It won’t be immediate, and it certainly won’t be overt, but it will happen. Unbelievably, you’ve lost Canada, for now – perhaps for good. And, we are all the poorer or it. We only pray you can save yourselves from this destructive path you’re now apparently on. Oh America, what have you done to yourself?!?

  18. Canadian Guy says:


    Canadian here, I can definitely say that I look for Canadian or other products, and have not bought American products when out shopping. It’s impossible to cut out America from my shopping, but I try as much as I can.

    It’s been a good educational experience. Canada has been invaded by America twice before, and I keep reminding myself that there’s no reason it can’t happen again. I doubt things would go well for us if we suddenly decided to stop selling all our oil to you at a wildly discounted rate.

    I know it’s all hyperbolic to Americans, but I wonder if I’ll ever have the appetite to visit your country again. I have a number of American friends, and I had a dream of doing a cross continent road trip someday, but I might just make it a cross-Canada road trip.

    A Canadian prime minister, the father of the current-day Trudeau, once described being beside the USA as being in bed with an elephant. Unfortunately, that elephant is showing its true colours these days. The attitudes Trump espouses are widespread and deeply held by many Americans. I’ve realized we’re not friends, just convenient economic neighbours. I’d say good luck to you guys, but I don’t really mean it. I can honestly say that I hope you guys suffer a bit of a collapse so that I can stop worrying that I’ll wake up in an actual 51st state tomorrow.