Free­land to set out labour, en­vi­ron­ment as pri­or­i­ties for NAFTA talks

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - BILL CURRY

For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land is set to out­line Canada’s ap­proach to rene­go­ti­at­ing the North Amer­i­can free-trade agree­ment on Mon­day, ahead of this week’s for­mal launch of talks with Mex­ico and the United States.

The min­is­ter is ex­pected to say that strength­en­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal and labour pro­vi­sions in the deal will be a pri­or­ity for Canada’s ne­go­ti­at­ing team, ac­cord­ing to a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial.

Rene­go­ti­at­ing NAFTA was a key po­lit­i­cal prom­ise of U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, but Ms. Free­land will out­line why she be­lieves it is also in Canada’s eco­nomic in­ter­ests to re­new the deal.

Ms. Free­land is sched­uled to de­liver a morn­ing speech on NAFTA, fol­lowed by an ap­pear­ance be­fore the House of Com­mons in­ter­na­tional trade com­mit­tee and then a news con­fer­ence with re­porters.

Con­ser­va­tive and NDP MPs say they will push the min­is­ter to pro­vide more de­tail as to Canada’s pri­or­i­ties in ad­vance of the launch of of­fi­cial ne­go­ti­a­tions in Wash­ing­ton on Wed­nes­day.

» U.S. Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Robert Lighthizer re­leased an 18-page doc­u­ment last month out­lin­ing Amer­i­can pri­or­i­ties in the ne­go­ti­a­tions, but Canada has yet to re­lease a sim­i­lar out­line of its ob­jec­tives.

Con­ser­va­tive MP Randy Hoback, his party’s critic for Canada-U.S. re­la­tions, said the min­is­ter should be able to pro­vide Canada’s high-level goals with­out com­pro­mis­ing its ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion.

“If you don’t say any­thing, then you let the U.S. con­trol the agenda, which isn’t help­ful ei­ther,” he said. “I think what you need to do is lay out your ob­jec­tives, so that peo­ple un­der­stand ex­actly what is your in­tent and what you hope to achieve out of these talks.” NDP MP Tracey Ram­sey agreed. “So far, the Lib­er­als have re­ally left Cana­di­ans in the dark about where they’re at in re­sponse to what we can clearly see com­ing out of the U.S., which is 18 pages of their pri­or­i­ties,” she said.

Ms. Free­land is sched­uled to speak Mon­day be­fore a spe­cial sum­mer sit­ting of the House of Com­mons com­mit­tee on in­ter­na­tional trade. She will be joined by in­ter­na­tional trade deputy min­is­ter Tim Sar­gent, chief NAFTA ne­go­tia­tor Steve Ver­heul and Martin Moen, a di­rec­tor-gen­eral for North America at Global Af­fairs Canada.

The United States has set an am­bi­tious time­line for ne­go­ti­a­tions. Mr. Lighthizer has said he would like to reach a deal by De­cem­ber, but also ac­knowl­edged that that may be am­bi­tious and that he has not set a firm dead­line.

Nonethe­less, ob­servers ex­pect the United States will want to present a deal to Congress by the spring of 2018, be­fore leg­is­la­tion au­tho­riz­ing the talks ex­pires in July. A pres­i­den­tial elec­tion is also sched­uled for July 1 in Mex­ico, which is also viewed as a rea­son to ex­pect a deal by early 2018.

Sco­tia­bank chief econ­o­mist Jean-François Per­rault said the U.S. po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment could lead to a prompt and mod­est rene­go­ti­a­tion.

“The com­pressed timetable im­plies a hope of achiev­ing a quick deal on points of com­mon in­ter­est that can be held up as an achieve­ment that con­trasts with the US ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­layed do­mes­tic agenda – rather than an all-or-noth­ing whole­sale re­work­ing of NAFTA,” he wrote in a re­search pa­per Fri­day.

Ohio-based in­ter­na­tional trade lawyer Dan Ujczo of the firm Dickinson Wright agrees that this is where the talks ap­pear to be head­ing, but he warns such a “vanilla” deal would be a hard sell for U.S. Democrats and Repub­li­cans seek­ing re-elec­tion in 2018.

Mr. Ujczo pointed out that many vot­ers in Ohio, Michi­gan and Wis­con­sin sup­ported Mr. Trump be­cause of his pledge to re­place NAFTA and they will be seek­ing a change with sub­stance.

Par­ties will be hold­ing pri­maries in the spring of 2018 to se­lect can­di­dates for the Novem­ber U.S. midterm elec­tions. The midterms will fea­ture con­tests for all House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tive seats, one third of the Sen­ate and most state gov­er­nor­ships.

“We’re in­creas­ingly look­ing at a non-con­fronta­tional deal to get it done within the time frame that we want, but a vanilla deal won’t sell in the heart­land of the United States, both to Democrats and Repub­li­cans,” Mr. Ujczo said in an in­ter­view. “Here, the midterms are loom­ing large … I don’t see, at present, how the votes add up.”

The NDP will be urg­ing the min­is­ter to pro­vide de­tails on its ap­proach to labour and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues and to pro­vide Canada’s re­sponse to the de­tailed ob­jec­tives out­lined last month by the United States.

“Re­spond­ing with what our pri­or­i­ties are and mak­ing that clear – not just for Cana­di­ans, but for the Amer­i­cans and the Mex­i­cans – going into these ne­go­ti­a­tions is ex­actly what we should be do­ing,” Ms. Ram­sey said.

Ms. Free­land met with Cana­dian agri­cul­ture or­ga­ni­za­tions on Fri­day in Ed­mon­ton to get their views ahead of the for­mal talks. She said last week that Cana­dian agri­cul­tural stake­hold­ers are look­ing to use the NAFTA talks as an opportunity to re­duce some of the red tape in cross-bor­der trade.

Brian Innes, pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Agri-Food Trade Al­liance, at­tended Fri­day’s meet­ing in Ed­mon­ton. He said Canada’s highly reg­u­lated agri­cul­tural sec­tor is look­ing for ways to har­mo­nize with its U.S. coun­ter­parts on reg­u­la­tory mat­ters. He pointed to the meat sec­tor as one area for im­prove­ment.

“We have dou­ble in­spec­tion so when a meat prod­uct crosses the bor­der, it has to get re-in­spected and that im­poses cost and a lot of un­cer­tainty for ex­porters,” Mr. Innes said. “So that’s the type of thing where we can re­duce reg­u­la­tory bur­den.”

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