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Trump, Trudeau praise USMCA trade deal they say will ‘grow middle class’

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump are both talking up the benefits of a new trilateral trade pact between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, saying it will grow the middle class and boost all three countries’ economies.

Trudeau said the successor to NAFTA — the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) — will modernize and stabilize the economy for the 21st century, guaranteeing a higher standard of living for Canadians for the long term.

The prime minister said striking the deal was « no easy feat » and Canada got there by maintaining its focus and collective resolve. He defended Canada’s concessions on the dairy sector, promising to address the « anxiety » with adequate compensation for affected farmers and to protect the supply management system.

Warning that the agreement must still be ratified by all three countries, Trudeau said the tentative deal means economic stability for the continent.

« We now have a path forward, » he said.

Trudeau and Trump spoke by phone earlier in the day, with the PMO issuing a statement extolling the benefits of the « new and modern trade agreement » reached last night.

« The prime minister and president stressed that the agreement would bring the countries closer together, create jobs and grow the middle class, enhance North American competitiveness and provide stability, predictability and prosperity to the region, » the statement reads.

The leaders agreed to keep in close touch to move the agreement forward. Trudeau also spoke with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto about the deal; both leaders said it will strengthen their countries’ close partnership and create good, well-paying jobs.

During a news conference in Washington, Trump called the agreement « truly historic news » for the U.S. and the world, replacing the « worst trade deal ever made » (NAFTA) with one based on fairness and reciprocity that closes what he called « terrible loopholes. »

Trump confirmed that hefty tariffs the U.S. imposed on steel and aluminum will remain intact until there is a new system in place, such as a import quota.

« We are not going to allow our steel industry to disappear, » he said.

Trump said the agreement will transform North America back into a manufacturing powerhouse.

The president said he and Trudeau butted heads over several issues, but in the end agreed to a deal that benefits both countries, as well as Mexico.

« This is a terrific deal for all of us, » he said.

Trump praised Trudeau, despite what he called the « strong tensions » between the two leaders during the trade talks.

« He’s a good man and he’s done a good job, and he loves the people of Canada, » he said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said negotiators will continue to fight to lift the lingering tariffs on aluminum and steel, insisting the integrated industry is « balanced and mutually beneficial. » She said her team will build on the momentum and intensify discussions on the tariffs.

Freeland highlighted the benefits of the agreement, including the fact it fends off auto tariffs Trump had threatened to impose. It also improves labour and environmental standards while protecting cultural industries, she said.

« This is a victory for all Canadians, » she said.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is expected to react to the deal later today after getting a briefing. Former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney issued a statement calling the agreement « a highly significant achievement for Canada » that will benefit all three countries.

« I have not yet had the opportunity to study the full text – and frequently the devil is in the details – but Canada appears to have achieved most if not all of its important objectives in this lengthy and challenging set of negotiations, » he said.

« I said at the beginning that there is no Conservative or Liberal way to negotiate a free trade agreement — there is only a Canadian way. This has been the government’s approach as well and I commend all — from the prime minister down — who contributed to writing this vital new chapter in the ongoing drive for greater Canadian strength and prosperity. »

The new trade deal Canada has agreed to sign with the U.S. and Mexico is being applauded for including measures that will protect jobs and preserve cultural industries — and panned for concessions that could harm the dairy sector.

Calling it a « great day for Canadians, » the head of the country’s largest private sector union said the USMCA will stem the flow of jobs to Mexico, protect cultural identity and preserve a formal process for settling trade disputes.

Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor, conceded the deal isn’t good for dairy, but said overall the USMCA will yield benefits for Canadian workers and the economy.

« There are some incredible victories in this deal, things we’ve been arguing and fighting for for the last 24 years, » he said.

Dias said another downside to the deal is a change to intellectual property rules that will extend the patent on biologic drugs to 10 years from eight. But he expects a national pharmacare plan will buffer Canadians from escalating medical costs.

« Am I comfortable? The answer is yes. Is it a perfect deal? The answer is no. But are we better off today than we have been over the last 24 years? I’ll say emphatically, the answer is yes, » he said.

Steel tariffs intact

Dias said he is pleased the deal fends off the threat from President Trump to slap 25 per cent tariffs on Canadian automobiles. While the reformulated deal does not lift the existing tariffs on steel and aluminum, Dias said he believes it’s better to find a permanent solution through the dispute process than to have a quota that could lead to a « generational » problem.

Unifor national president Jerry Dias says the USMCA is a good deal for Canadian workers. (CBC)

Jean Simard, president of the Aluminum Association of Canada, said he was disappointed that the tariffs weren’t addressed in the new deal.

« We are certainly glad to see that the three countries have reached an agreement. We are very disappointed that section 232 (tariffs on national security grounds) on aluminum and steel have not been dealt with, and we are strongly urging Minister Freeland and Prime Minister Trudeau, who has spent lots of time in our plants recently, to remember our thousands of workers and ensure that Canada’s world class aluminum industry can grow free of tariffs and quota. »

Impact on dairy sector

Ontario Premier Doug Ford expressed concern about the impact of the deal on his province’s agriculture sector.

« While I’m optimistic that the USMCA announced today will create continued opportunities, I remain concerned about the impact of Canada’s reported concessions on Class 7 milk and access to Ontario’s dairy market could have on our agriculture sector. We also remain concerned about the remaining steel and aluminum tariffs, » he said.

« Our government will be speaking directly with industry representatives from Ontario’s steel, aluminum, auto and agriculture sectors to determine the impacts of this deal. »

The Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) said they have paid the price to conclude the trade agreement.

« The announced concessions on dairy in the new USMCA deal demonstrates once again that the Canadian government is willing to sacrifice our domestic dairy production when it comes time to make a deal, » said DFC President Pierre Lampron in a statement.

« The government has said repeatedly that it values a strong and vibrant dairy sector — they have once again put that in jeopardy by giving away more concessions. »

Dennis Darby, president of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, called the agreement a « significant step » that preserves integrated manufacturing supply chains and will help create certainty for business.

« The manufacturing sector is the cornerstone of the North American economic relationship and the reason this trade agreement is so critical, » he said in a statement.

« We worked closely with the government throughout the negotiation to ensure the integrated manufacturing sector would remain unharmed and strengthened where possible. We believe the USMCA has accomplished this objective. »

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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