PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- U.S. state governors who met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday voiced their displeasure of a suggested border tax and stressed their interest in seeing the North American Free Trade Agreement survive and continue beyond its upcoming renegotiation.
The Republican governor of Kentucky, Matt Bevin, dismissed as absurd the notion that his country might impose trade barriers, like the idea of a border tax being suggested by some people in Washington.
President Donald Trump, others in administration and even Speaker of the House Paul Ryan have suggested a border tax could apply to goods coming from Canada and Mexico.
A border tax is opposed by a number auto parts manufacturers in Canada. Bevin doesn’t support the idea either.
“There's a lot of concern, a lot of talk, a lot of hypotheses about what might happen, as things are renegotiated and things are re-discused," Bevin said. "We're each other's strongest trading partner, we're each other's closest ally, literally and figuratively.
"The idea that it won't come out in good measure for both parties is preposterous. I mean, the idea that it won't be continuing a strong relationship is something, I think, people shouldn't even waste time thinking about. Cross-border taxes don't do anybody any good. Us starting to do tit-for-tat ultimately creates more trouble."
Trudeau became the first foreign leader to address the annual governors' gathering.
Trudeau's keynote speech to the annual state-governors' conference in Rhode Island is titled: "Collaborating to Create Tomorrow's Global Economy."
It was the culmination of a months-long Canadian strategy of reaching out to governors in 11 politically important states, to encourage them to speak up in defense of NAFTA.
The prime minister said he was gratified by the response from various levels of government and urged more trade, not less: "We must get this right," Trudeau said.
"Sometimes getting it right means refusing to take the politically-tempting shortcuts. More trade barriers, more local-content provisions, more preferential access for home-grown players in government procurement, for example, does not help working families over the long term, or even the mid-term.
"Such policies kill growth."
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker left his meeting with the prime minister Friday acknowledging the countries' differences over dairy policy, but downplaying the idea that any single irritant could cause the dismantling of the three-country trade pact.
"I don't think you need to blow it up. I think it needs to be improved," Walker told a group of Canadian reporters. “I think it's (about) improving. I mean, you're talking about something that's more than two decades old. No matter how good something is there's always good ways to improve it.”
Friday is like a day of Canada-U.S. political speed-dating: Dozens of American governors, and several Canadian federal and provincial representatives, are holding meetings in quick succession, hoping to leave a good impression before the relationship gets tested by the cold reality of trade negotiations.
They're all converging at a Rhode Island convention centre where about three-dozen U.S. state governors are holding their annual summer meeting, with trade uncertainty looming ahead.
Trudeau, Pence meeting
The Canadian side, led by Trudeau, participated in a public panel, held separate meetings with five state governors, and had a formal one-on-one session with Vice-President Mike Pence.
Trudeau also met the governors of five states; Kentucky, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Iowa and Colorado.
Canadian officials say the long-term objective here is to create relationships that could prove useful, should trade talks hit a difficult patch and Canada find itself in need of allies willing to speak up in favour of NAFTA.
The federal government has identified 11 U.S. states that might have the most political clout in upcoming trade debates, with several having been won at least once by Barack Obama, swung to Donald Trump, and exporting heavily to Canada.
A Canadian contingent held individual meetings with about half of the three-dozen governors present. That contingent includes Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Quebec's international relations minister, Nova Scotia's transport minister, federal cabinet members, and senators.