Nav­i­gat­ing NAFTA

The Pilot - - Editorial -

How do you ne­go­ti­ate with a per­son who keeps chang­ing po­si­tions as the au­di­ence war­rants; talks in vague gen­er­al­i­ties be­cause he seems to lack ba­sic knowl­edge of the is­sue; and says one thing and means another?

That’s what New Eng­land gover­nors and Eastern Cana­dian pre­miers had to grap­ple with this week when they sat down for their an­nual con­fer­ence in Char­lot­te­town.

The ele­phant in the room, of course, is U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, and a key is­sue fac­ing pre­miers and gover­nors is the cur­rent rene­go­ti­a­tion of the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment.

Gover­nors and pre­miers are acutely aware of the im­mense value of trade be­tween the north­east­ern states and At­lantic Canada and Que­bec, and of the hun­dreds of thou­sands of jobs de­pen­dent on their his­toric, in­ter­twined economies. Each side was preach­ing to the con­verted — NAFTA has worked well and must re­main.

Trump has long com­plained that NAFTA is a bad deal for the U.S. and that the other part­ners — par­tic­u­larly Mex­ico — have ben­e­fited to the detri­ment of U.S. jobs and trade bal­ance. The pres­i­dent might call NAFTA one of the worst trade deals in his­tory, but he’s get­ting few tak­ers in New Eng­land and other states or from mem­bers of Congress.

Canada had largely es­caped scru­tiny, but just as pre­miers and gover­nors were about to sit down in Char­lot­te­town, Trump started tweet­ing to com­plain that Canada and Mex­ico were be­ing “very dif­fi­cult” in NAFTA talks, and hinted that he might just ter­mi­nate the deal.

His com­ments were meant to rat­tle Cana­dian and Mex­i­can ne­go­tia­tors as talks now shift to Mex­ico from Wash­ing­ton. They were likely also made to shake up gover­nors and pre­miers gather­ing in P.E.I.

Most ob­servers and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers didn’t ap­pear to take Trump’s words too se­ri­ously, though. They agree that NAFTA needs to be rene­go­ti­ated but only so as to mod­ern­ize it for the 21st cen­tury and make it bet­ter for all sides. Trump talks tough, but those kinds of com­ments have be­come pre­dictable and tire­some.

A key Trump ally as­sured Char­lot­te­town del­e­gates that they have noth­ing to fear. Maine Gov. Paul LePage said he’s con­fi­dent that any is­sues with NAFTA can be fixed and that Canada shouldn’t read too much into what Trump says.

“He re­ally truly be­lieves in hav­ing free trade and good, hon­est trade be­tween the two coun­tries,” LePage said of his pres­i­dent.

So the con­sen­sus in Char­lot­te­town was to take the pres­i­dent’s soar­ing rhetoric with a large dose of skep­ti­cism and let com­mon sense pre­vail.

To that end, the first res­o­lu­tion passed by gover­nors and pre­miers touted the im­por­tance of cross-bor­der trade and com­merce to their re­spec­tive economies.

They seem to be look­ing for­ward to a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial fu­ture un­der NAFTA. The pres­i­dent should take a les­son from Char­lot­te­town and do the same.

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