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Trudeau defends dairy industry after Trump slams it

Prime minister says Canada is not the challenge for the U.S.

With Donald Trump ramping up his anti-Canada trade rhetoric, Justin Trudeau says the United States -- like other countries -- subsidizes its dairy and agriculture industries by hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars.

And the prime minister says he will continue to protect Canada's agriculture producers, including the supply management system, as he tries to engage in "fact-based" conversation with the U.S. administration on a variety of trade irritants.

"Let's not pretend we're in a global free market when it comes to agriculture," Trudeau said Thursday in a question-and-answer session with Bloomberg television that preceded Trump's latest trade invective.

"Every country protects, for good reason, its agricultural industries. And we have a supply management system that works very well here in Canada.... The Americans and other countries chose to subsidize to the tunes of hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions of dollars, their agriculture industries including their dairy."

He said the U.S. currently enjoys a $400-million dairy surplus with Canada.

"So it's not Canada that is a challenge here."

Trump followed up minutes later with a pointed attack on Canadian trade practices and the impact on U.S. interests.

"Canada, what they've done to our dairy farm workers, is a disgrace. It's a disgrace," Trump said. "Rules, regulations, different things have changed. And our farmers in Wisconsin and New York State are being put out of business."

Trump echoed and amplified the complaints of Wisconsin and New York governors, who said Canada's decision to create a lower-priced, classification of milk product had frozen U.S. producers out of the Canadian market.

Trudeau acknowledged the concerns of those two states, but said he didn't want to "overreact." It was Trudeau's first comment since Trump first attacked the Canadian dairy industry on Tuesday at an event in Wisconsin.

Canada's ambassador to the United States, David MacNaughton, fired back at Trump's criticism on Tuesday by writing to the governors of those two states telling them the plight of their farmers was not Canada's fault. He said it was caused by U.S. and global overproduction of milk.

"Any conversation around that starts with recognizing the facts. Now I understand how certain governors are speaking to certain constituencies on that. It's politics," Trudeau said.

"Different countries have different approaches and we're going to engage in a thoughtful fact-based conversation on how to move forward in a way that both protects our consumers and our agricultural producers."

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