TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian Trade Minister Michael Fortier on Sunday said he was not too worried about the next U.S. president seeking to reopen the Nafta treaty because American businesses depend on two-way trade with Canada.
"So often Americans believe that this is only a one-way street, that the benefits are only here in Canada, and that's not true at all," Fortier said in an interview with CTV, his first since his appointment late last month in a cabinet shuffle.
"Seasoned Americans, people who understand how this two-way trade works, will know that it's to their benefit as well."
Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee for U.S. president, has suggested that the United States could opt out of the Nafta free-trade treaty if Canada and Mexico did not agree to revisions of the pact's labor and environmental provisions. Obama later appeared to soften his stance, saying rhetoric during the campaign had sometimes become "overheated."
When asked to be more specific about what Ottawa would do about trade relations after the next U.S. president took office, Fortier said the government would take a wait-and-see approach. "We will deal with that when we get there," he said.
Even so, Fortier acknowledged that Canadian businesses had good reason to be concerned about the economic health of the United States, its northern neighbor's main trading partner.
"The consumers in the U.S. spend $9 trillion. When they decide to take a rest ... clearly people who export into the U.S. get very worried."
But Fortier said the Canadian economy remained on solid footing, even though manufacturing was facing some clear challenges.
"Jobs are being created in other sectors," he said, "so there's a bit of a hedging thing taking place in Canada."
Fortier, an unelected senator, was named trade minister to replace David Emerson, who was tapped by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to fill a gap left by the forced resignation last month of Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier over a security scandal.
Fortier has taken the trade portfolio at a time when World Trade Organization negotiations are coming down to the final crunch.
Harper appointed Fortier, a Montreal businessman and veteran Conservative Party organizer, to the Senate in February 2006 so that he could bring a French-speaking politician from Quebec into his cabinet as public works minister.
In the CBC interview on Sunday, Fortier encouraged Canadian companies to look to diversify their export markets, pointing out that companies in Montreal developed Asian markets over the past two decades after relying too heavily on Europe in the past.
"Now they have a footprint in other geographical areas which will help them hedge their position if the U.S. indeed goes into recession."
Reporting by Frank McGurty, editing by Martin Golan