Prescott-Russell hopes for best in NAFTA talks
Talks have begun for either rewriting or revoking the 20-year-old free trade agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico. Which result it will be may depend on how the United States behaves at the negotiating table.
The future of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is now in the hands of the negotiating teams for all three member countries. In Prescott-Russell, the hope is that a new NAFTA agreement, if it results, will not end up jeopardizing the agricultural community which makes up a large part of the foundation of the regional economy.
“In Prescott-Russell it’s 80 per cent agricultural, so we definitely have to protect that,” said Carole Lavigne, economic development and tourism director for the United Counties of Prescott-Russell (UCPR). “It’s taken a lot of years to bring our agriculture to this level. We don’t want to see that go down.”
The U.S. position on NAFTA is outlined in an 18-page document available online at https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/ Press/Releases/NAFTAObjectives.pdf. Both Trump and members of the U.S. NAFTA negotiating team have indicated they want an end to restrictions on American dairy products and other agricultural exports. That stance threatens Canada’s supply management policy which protects dairy and egg producers from dumping of foreign milk and egg products onto the Canadian market and also sets limits on the use of foreign milk products in the local manufacture of some items such as yogurt and ice cream.
“It’s definitely the dairy sector that has to be protected,” Lavigne said, adding that the supply management system safeguards Canada’s dairy industry not just from dumping of U.S. products onto the market but also limits the amount of European cheese imports which might undercut those from local manufacturers like the St-Albert Cheese Factory.
“The MPs know about our concerns,” said Lavigne. “Now let’s see how it’s going to work.”
Francis Drouin, Liberal MP for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, has stated several times during past interviews that the supply management system is “off the table” whenever there is any discussion about revising NAFTA. He repeated that position during an Aug. 18 interview in Hawkesbury and also noted that President Trump has a poor understanding of just how complicated negotiating a new NAFTA can be.
“Trump already tried to cancel the NAFTA agreement,” Drouin said, “and then he was told by the governors of 30 states that Canada was their number one (trade) customer.”
Drouin also noted that the U.S. is approaching another period of election campaigning when one-third of the seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate come up for re-election. That can work in Canada’s favour during NAFTA negotiations because many incumbent senators and state representatives will want to reassure their constituents that renegotiating NAFTA will not threaten their economic ties to Canada.
“We (Canada) are not in any hurry to negotiate, we’ve had our election,” Drouin said. “So we’re not going to accept just any deal. It (NAFTA) needs to be improved, we agree on that. But we’re putting on our Canada First hat.”
Drouin also noted that Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has experience in taking a tough stand on trade negotiations. Last year during the CETA talks on trade relations with Europe, she walked away from the negotiating table rather than accept demands that could have weakened Canadian trade.
Des pourparlers sont en cours pour la renégociation de l’Accord de libre-échange nord-américain (ALENA) entre le Canada, les États-Unis et le Mexique. Le président des États-Unis, Donald Trump, a affirmé qu’il voulait simplement « modifier » les sections touchant les relations commerciales entre son pays et le Canada, mais la délégation des États-Unis dispose de 18 pages remplies de 100 demandes de réécriture du document de deux décennies. Le premier ministre Justin Trudeau et la ministre des Affaires étrangères, Chrystia Freeland, ont déclaré que le Canada verrait une révision équitable de l’ALENA. Mme Freeland a également promis qu’elle était prête à « se retirer de la table », comme elle l’a fait pendant les négociations de l’AECC en Europe l’année dernière, si les demandes des États-Unis à la table de l’ALENA menacent la souveraineté et le commerce du Canada.