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EU trade chief blasts Trump "walls", cites Canada as partner on openness

OTTAWA - The European Union's trade chief says Canada is a key partner against the job-killing, anti-trade sentiment coming from Donald Trump's administration.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom delivered that hard-hitting message in a speech Monday in Toronto, where she visited Canadian businesses that she said would benefit from the Canada-EU free trade agreement.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau travelled to Strasbourg, France last month shortly after the European Parliament ratified the broad transatlantic trade pact.

Trudeau used the trip to reinforce not only the benefits of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, but to affirm the broader merits of rules-based liberalized trade to a nervous continent.

Trump's protectionist, "America First" mantra has sent shock waves through the EU, which will soon be entering into divorce negotiations with Britain following its referendum decision last summer to leave the 28-country bloc.

Trump has praised Britain's Brexit decision, while the prospects of a U.S.-EU free trade deal have since tanked.

Malmstrom offered her own broadside against Trump.

"In an age when some doors are closing, we are clear to the world that ours are open," she said in a prepared text. "We are building bridges, not walls."

Malmstrom said the EU is vigorously pursuing trade deals in southeast Asia, Japan and Mexico.

A proposed U.S. border tax would adversely affect trade, "be at odds with World Trade Organization rules," and mean higher prices for consumers, "hitting the poorest hardest of all.

"And it would cost jobs; for the relatively wealthy countries of Canada and the EU and for the developing world."

Canada and the EU also share "values" in other areas, including climate change, migration and defence — all of which have become contentious issues for Trump, she said.

"So we do not agree with those who think the answer is to raise barriers, build walls, or circumvent the international, rules-based trading system," Malmstrom said.

Europe knows what it means to be divided by "walls and borders" and that they do not bring freedom and prosperity, she said.

"We are reaching out to progressive partners across the world who share that view. In that struggle, Canada is the obvious partner."

Malmstrom is to meet in Ottawa on Tuesday with Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. She and then-trade minister Freeland worked together closely last year in finalizing CETA.

Unlike the Trudeau Liberals, who have worked hard to find common economic ground with Trump and his cabinet, European officials have not hidden their disdain for the controversial U.S. president.

Earlier this month, EU Climate Action and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete used a visit to Ottawa to champion Canada as a partner in defending the Paris climate change accord from a U.S. president who has called climate change a hoax.

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