Re­vamped NAFTA could im­prove trade: premier

Windsor Star - - CITY + REGION - SARAH SACHELI With files from The Cana­dian Press ssacheli@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/WinS­tarSacheli

Premier Kath­leen Wynne said a rene­go­ti­a­tion of the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment is an op­por­tu­nity to im­prove trade re­la­tions for On­tario, and play­ers in the prov­ince’s auto in­dus­try agree.

The United States of­fi­cially served no­tice Thurs­day of its in­ten­tion to rene­go­ti­ate the agree­ment, trig­ger­ing a 90-day con­sul­ta­tion win­dow be­fore start­ing talks late this sum­mer with Canada and Mex­ico.

Uni­for pres­i­dent Jerry Dias said Fri­day he has al­ready met with Wil­bur Ross, U.S. Sec­re­tary of Com­merce.

“There’s a real recog­ni­tion that Canada is not the prob­lem in the trade agree­ment,” Dias said of his dis­cus­sions with Ross. Rather there’s a need to change labour stan­dards in Mex­ico to even the play­ing field.

The av­er­age wage in a Mex­i­can assem­bly plant is $6 an hour, Dias said. In parts plants, it’s $3 an hour.

“They can’t even af­ford the cars they are mak­ing,” he said, call­ing NAFTA, in its cur­rent form, “a colos­sal dis­as­ter.”

The pres­i­dent of the Au­to­mo­tive Parts Man­u­fac­tur­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada, said NAFTA works for the auto in­dus­try, but there is room for im­prove­ment.

“NAFTA works for us right now,” Flavio Volpe said. But when the agree­ment was ne­go­ti­ated 25 years ago, it couldn’t con­tem­plate tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances in the in­dus­try.

NAFTA’s “rules of ori­gin” don’t in­clude many of the com­po­nents that ex­ist in au­to­mo­biles today — GPS and ad­vanced driver as­sis­tance sys­tems like lane sen­sors, Volpe said. Not in­clud­ing those com­po­nents skews the per­cent­age of com­po­nents com­ing from a par­tic­u­lar coun­try.

Rene­go­ti­at­ing NAFTA could also im­prove mo­bil­ity for spe­cial­ists work­ing for a par­tic­u­lar com­pany. This is Canada’s chance to re­open cat­e­gories of spe­cial­ist who can get spe­cial H1 visas to work in the United States with­out need­ing a green card.

“We see this as a great op­por­tu­nity,” Volpe said.

Wynne noted that On­tario is the main cus­tomer of 20 U.S. states and the sec­ond-largest of eight more.

She said nearly nine mil­lion U.S. jobs de­pend on trade and in­vest­ment with Canada.

The premier said the gov­ern­ment is work­ing in Wash­ing­ton and in state cap­i­tals across the U.S. to ad­dress is­sues that could af­fect On­tario-U.S. trade and en­sure the prov­ince’s in­ter­ests are rep­re­sented.

Wynne also said the prov­ince has re­tained le­gal ex­perts and trade ad­vis­ers to sup­port on­go­ing ef­forts to im­prove trade with the U.S.

“We are not sat­is­fied to take a wait-and-see ap­proach when it comes to any rene­go­ti­a­tion of NAFTA,” Wynne said Thurs­day in a state­ment.

“We see this de­ci­sion as an op­por­tu­nity to look at how NAFTA could po­ten­tially be im­proved to make the agree­ment even more ef­fec­tive for the peo­ple of On­tario, our work­ers and busi­nesses.”

Wynne said she will con­tinue to travel to the U.S. to meet with gov­er­nors, leg­is­la­tors and busi­nesses in states that have strong trad­ing part­ner­ships with On­tario.

We are not sat­is­fied to take a wait-and-see ap­proach when it comes to any rene­go­ti­a­tion of NAFTA.

Flavio Volpe

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