This is what happens when the giant begins to roar

In the 2001 Hollywood classic Pearl Harbour, Japanese Admiral Yamamoto utters what is one of the film’s most iconic quotes.

“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant,” he says shortly after Japanese Imperial Forces bomb Peal Harbour in 1941.

The sleeping giant is the United States, which were dragged into the Second World War shortly after the Pearl Harbour bombing.

On Thursday, that same sleeping giant awoke with a roar once more – this time sending tremors and shockwaves internationally and starting a war of a different sort.

Instead of targeting its foes, the Trump administration has set its sights on the United States’ longtime friends and allies, including Canada.

Effective June 1, the Trump administration has imposed import tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum products, of 25 percent and 10 percent respectively. The tariffs, Washington said, are necessary because of national security concerns.

Canada has refuted that argument, arguing the two countries share an integrated defence system. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said the tariffs are both “insulting” and “absurd.”

Canadian politeness has been replaced with blunt talking points and disbelief. Formal complaints have been filed with the World Trade Organization and under NAFTA.

All of a sudden Canada and its largest trading partner, the United States, are at odds, with Canada threatening to impose $16.6 billion in retaliatory tariffs against its southern neighbour, effective July 1.

The list of goods that could be targeted is lengthy and detailed.

And, while raw agricultural commodities like corn, rice, beef and pork have so far been exempted from Canada’s list – over fears there could be unintended consequences on Canadian agriculture – there are plenty of finished food products on the list. Freeland has said the list can be amended if necessary.

Chocolate, strawberry jam, non-frozen orange juice, prepared mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, soup, cucumbers, gherkins, pizzas, quiche and whiskies are some of the food products that could face a 10 per cent import tariff starting on Canada Day.

A trade war between Canada and the United States is no small potatoes. Agriculture is traditionally a target – even when the goods in question aren’t grown on a farm – because the products are perishable.

Canada’s agriculture industry was already nervous about the trade uncertainty surrounding the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which appear to have seized. A trade war between neighbours adds to that uncertainty.

Agricultural trade alone between the two countries was worth some $63 billion in 2017.

Here at home, Canadian food processors and agriculture equipment manufacturers are warning the steel and aluminum tariffs will hurt consumers on both sides of the border.

“Retaliatory options risk hurting Canadian consumers as much as they would hurt U.S. consumers,” Food and Consumer Products of Canada President Michael Graydon said in a release June 1.

“Some food and consumer products will become more expensive in Canada, and consumers may also be faced with a limited product selection on grocery and drug store shelves.”  

Graydon urged Canadian and American officials to go back to the negotiating table “to find a constructive way to settle commercial differences.”

As of deadline, those discussions looked unlikely, with U.S. President Donald Trump’s top economic advisor Larry Kudlow telling Fox News June 3 Canada was “overreacting” to the tariffs.

Meanwhile, the U.S. president has repeatedly insisted, via Twitter, that his actions his actions on the trade file will help American farmers, publicly lamenting Canada’s so-called unfair trade policies.

“Farmers have not been doing well for 15 years. Mexico, Canada, China and others have treated them unfairly,” the U.S. president tweeted June 4. “By the time I finish trade talks, that will change. Big trade barriers against U.S. farmers, and other businesses, will finally be broken. Massive trade deficits no longer!”

It doesn’t look like this giant is planning on sleeping again any time soon.

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