Trudeau, Wynne assured that NAFTA won’t be blown up
The Canadian government has got what it wanted during U.S. meetings this week: clear, public assurances from powerful Republican politicians that the North American Free Trade Agreement will be preserved.
Those soothing messages came just days before the U.S. government is set to release its positions for NAFTA negotiations, which are scheduled to begin next month under the shadow of intermittent threats by President Donald Trump to rip up the three-country deal.
Those reassurances didn’t just come from the state governors gathered in Rhode Island for their summer meetings. They also came from Trump’s vice-president. In a speech to dozens of state governors, Mike Pence promised a collaborative approach.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was seated in the room — he applauded the remarks.
“We will modernize NAFTA for the 21st century so that it is a win-win-win for all of our trading partners in North America,” Pence said, as Trudeau clapped and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland took notes throughout the speech.
“President Trump recognizes that every trade relationship can improve and ... we’re looking forward to bringing NAFTA into the future in a way that will equally benefit both our countries.”
Trudeau became the first foreign leader to address the annual governors’ gathering. It was the culmination of a months-long Canadian strategy of reaching out to governors in 11 politically important states, to encourage them to speak up in defence of NAFTA.
The prime minister said he was gratified by the response from various levels of government and urged more trade, not less: “We must get this right,” Trudeau said.
“Sometimes getting it right means refusing to take the politically tempting shortcuts. More trade barriers, more local-content provisions, more preferential access for homegrown players in government procurement, for example, does not help working families over the long term, or even the mid-term. “Such policies kill growth.” He found a receptive audience. The Republican governor of Kentucky dismissed as absurd the notion that his country might impose trade barriers, like the idea of a border tax being suggested by some people in Washington.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker left his meeting with the prime minister acknowledging differences over dairy policy, but he downplayed the idea that any single irritant could cause the dismantling of the three-country trade pact.
“I don’t think you need to blow it up. I think it needs to be improved,” Walker told reporters.
Trudeau met the governors of five states — Kentucky, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Iowa and Colorado. He was assisted by a broader delegation that including Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. She said she’s leaving these meetings more confident.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence at the National Governors’ Association meeting Friday.