WASHINGTON – Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard expressed cautious optimism after a discussion with U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Monday about various trade-related irritants.
Couillard met with Ross for about 20 minutes to talk about softwood lumber litigation, NAFTA and Boeing’s trade complaint against Quebec-based Bombardier Inc. (TSX:BBD.B).
“I’m more optimistic now than when I arrived because I felt a desire to go further, to make progress and to reach deals,” the premier told reporters.
Couillard said renegotiating the Mexico-Canada-United States free-trade agreement is the file that will take the longest to settle.
“What I felt on his (Ross’s) part was nothing new, it was a desire to go faster on the softwood file,” he said.
But Couillard echoed federal Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s view last week that the two countries are not close to a negotiated settlement on the issue.
Energy, Quebec’s aluminum industry and Canada’s supply management system were also on the agenda at the meeting between Couillard and Ross.
The Quebec premier’s visit comes weeks after a delegation of eight provincial and territorial leaders travelled to Washington, D.C., to meet with U.S. administration officials, lawmakers and business leaders.
Earlier in the day, Couillard met with David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, as well as with Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin.
The latter discussion was aimed at strengthening ties between Quebec and the southern state, given that Kelly Knight Clark, the U.S. ambassador-designate to Canada, hails from Kentucky, as does Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
According to Quebec government data, the province exported $59.4 billion worth of goods to the United States in 2015, accounting for more than 72 per cent of its international exports.