With Trump’s trade war against China progressing and escalating seemingly every day, culminating for now with China’s Friday announcement of another $60 billion in tariffs on US imports in response to Trump’s threat to tax $200 billion of Chinese imports at a 25% rate, some China watchers expected that one of China’s qualitative responses would be to appeal to local nationalist sentiment, urging for a “soft boycott” of US products – in line with the country’s response to Japanese products during the 2013 East China Sea diplomatic clash. However, while China has so far resisted a US boycott, the same can not be said for another target of Trump’s tariffs: Canada.
Exposing the growing backlash against Trump’s trade policies, the WSJ writes that “ticked-off Canadians”, angered by U.S. metals tariffs and Trump’s harsh words for their prime minister, are boycotting American products and buying Canadian.
Take Garland Coulson, a 58-year-old Alberta entrepreneur, who admits that while usually he doesn’t pay much attention to where the goods he buys are coming from, saying that “you tend to buy the products that taste good or you buy the products that are low in price where taste isn’t an issue”, he believes the tariffs from Canada’s neighbor are a “slap in the face,” and added that in recent he has put more Canadian products into his shopping cart.
Or take Calgary resident Tracy Martell, who “replaced her Betty Crocker brownie mix with a homemade recipe and hasn’t visited the U.S. since shortly after President Trump’s inauguration.”
Or take Ontario resident Beth Mouratidis is trying out Strub’s pickles as a replacement for her longtime favorite, Bick’s.
The push to ” boycott America” and buy more Canadian products gained strength after the U.S. levied 25% tariffs on Canadian steel and 10% on aluminum starting June 1 and President Trump called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “Very dishonest & weak” on Twitter following a Group of Seven meeting the following week. Canada in turn imposed retaliatory tariffs on some U.S. products, including foodstuffs such as ketchup, orange juice and yogurt.
“People sort of feel that we’re getting a raw deal from the U.S. and we have to stick up for ourselves,“ said Tom Legere, marketing manager for Ontario-based Kawartha Dairy Ltd., which has seen more interest in its ice cream recently. ”And this is their way at the supermarket of trying to do so.”
However, in their attempt to exclude US produce, Canadians have run into a problem: what is American, and what is really Canadian?
The logistical spiderweb of global supply chains has made even something as simple as a boycott surprisingly complex. It shouldn’t be: after all, Canada is the U.S.’s top export market, taking a little more than 18% of all U.S. exports. According to some estimates, roughly 40% to 60% of food on Canada’s grocery shelves is from the US, while closely linked production chains make it tough to determine how much of any given item was produced domestically.
That has left would-be boycotters scratching their heads as they untangle how much of a given product was made or grown outside the country.
The confusion has led to a mini cottage industry: tracing the origins of Canadian products. “I’ll swear up and down something is 100% Canadian,” said Mouratidis, who curates a Facebook list of Canadian household goods, food products and other items. Occasionally, she runs into surprises: she was convinced Old Dutch chips were all-Canadian until she found out Old Dutch Foods Ltd. is a subsidiary. The parent company, Old Dutch Foods Inc., is based in Minnesota.
This leads to occasional exclusions on the boycott list: the Old Dutch snack food remains on Ms. Mouratidis’s list because the Canadian company makes its chips in Canada.
It has also led to a sales boost for companies whose products are not “diluted” with traces of American influence. A social-media post promoting Kawartha Dairy over “American” Haagen-Dazs ice cream was criticized by a Facebook user who pointed out that Haagen-Dazs products sold in Canada are made at a Canadian plant. The plant also uses Canadian dairy, Nestlé Canada Inc. confirmed.
Kawartha Dairy, which wasn’t involved in the original post, received more than a hundred emails and Facebook messages in recent weeks from Canadians asking where they could find the company’s ice cream.
Another product getting a boost from the “Buy Canadian” push: Hawkins Cheezies, a corn snack that looks like a denser and crunchier version of Cheetos that is made with Canadian cheddar. W.T. Hawkins Ltd., which makes the snack, said two large grocery-store chains recently increased their orders.
The growing animosity to “Made in America” has made some traditional staples non-grata: Kraft Heinz has been a frequent target for Canadians since Heinz stopped producing ketchup in Ontario in 2014.
A list circulating online recently that ranked consumers’ best options for Canadian products puts French’s ketchup ahead of Heinz because it is manufactured in Canada.
Then again, unlike the Chinese where a boycott really means a boycott, one wonder if for all the clamor, Canada’s revulsion to US products is merely just another example of virtue signaling. After all, one sector where the boycott efforts are failing miserably, is travel. Although some people are deliberately staying away from the U.S., the WSJ notes that according to official Canadian data, overall cross-border car trips by Canadians were up 12.7% in June from the same month last year.