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Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who has had some harsh words about recent protectionist U.S. moves, says President Bush has reassured him the United States is not heading toward a trade war with Canada.

At a news conference Sunday, Mulroney said he had spoken with Bush by telephone earlier in the day and that Bush promised to look into Canadian trade concerns.In a rare swipe at U.S. trade policies, Mulroney charged in comments published Sunday that Washington was engaging in protectionism and harassment after Canada lost important trade disputes over automobiles and lumber.

"If you had told me that some tinpot dictator in some tiny little country somewhere was engaging in this kind of harassment, I'd say `So what else is new?' " Mulroney was quoted by The New York Times as saying.

"But for the United States, this is most unworthy."

At the news conference, the prime minister was careful to aim his attacks at "low-level functionaries" in the U.S. administration, while praising Bush's commitment to free trade.

"There's a certain element of the American administration that is responding to protectionist cries . . . but that is not Bush's position," Mulroney said.

The criticism was unusual since Mulroney's Conservative Party and Bush's Republican Party espouse similar conservative views on foreign affairs and domestic policies.

A week ago, U.S. Customs ruled that Honda Civics built in Alliston, Ont., from 1989-1990 have insufficient North American content to qualify for duty-free export under the free trade agreement.

The decision could discourage Japanese investors from establishing new ventures in Canada, Honda officials say.

On Friday, the U.S. Commerce Department issued a preliminary decision that Canadian softwood lumber exports were unfairly subsidized and slapped a tax of nearly 14.5 percent on softwood imports from British Columbia and Quebec.