How will Canada get along with Trump?

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - David Shrib­man Columnist David M. Shrib­man is ex­ec­u­tive editor of the PostGazette (dshrib­man@postgazette.com, 412 263-1890). Fol­low him on Twit­ter at Shrib­manPG.

Put aside your pre­con­cep­tions about NAFTA for just a mo­ment. And your as­sump­tions about Canada, too. Look across the bor­der and you’ll find that the Cana­di­ans want to rene­go­ti­ate the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment also.

Sure, Canada is skep­ti­cal, if not down­right hos­tile, to Don­ald J. Trump, who trig­gered a bit­ter bel­liger­ence in nearly ev­ery con­ver­sa­tion here in the days fol­low­ing his elec­tion to the White House. But there’s noth­ing more im­por­tant to this coun­try than its trade with the United States, which ac­counts for an ex­change of $1.6 mil­lion in goods and ser­vices ev­ery minute — or more than $670 bil­lion in 2015. Canada is the big­gest trad­ing part­ner the United States has, big­ger even than all 28 coun­tries in the Euro­pean Union.

“This is the most im­por­tant two-way trade in the world,” said David Wright, for­mer Cana­dian rep­re­sen­ta­tive to NATO. “We be­lieve free trade ends up ben­e­fit­ing all par­tic­i­pants. And though Trump prob­a­bly didn’t have Canada in mind when he said all those things about NAFTA, the deal is 20 years old. There are some things that should be up­graded and up­dated.”

In­deed, Canada — un­usu­ally de­pen­dent on trade, which ac­counts for 60 per­cent of its gross do­mes­tic prod­uct, most of it with the United States — has griev­ances, too. And it has a trade safety net Trump may not have con­sid­ered. If he moves to shelve NAFTA, Canada will sim­ply fall back on an agree­ment long for­got­ten be­low the 49th par­al­lel but top of mind above it: the Canada-United States Free Trade Agree­ment (FTA) of 1987, which elim­i­nated tar­iffs, swept away other trade bar­ri­ers and im­ple­mented a pathfind­ing mech­a­nism to re­solve trade dis­putes swiftly.

“We know that Canada wants free trade in North Amer­ica,” said Jeremy K.B. Kins­man, a vet­eran top diplo­mat who was Canada’s am­bas­sador to Lon­don, Moscow and the Euro­pean Union, and is a mem­ber of Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau’s For­eign Af­fairs Coun­cil. “It’s essen­tial for Canada, but Canada knows it has the FTA in its back pocket if NAFTA be­comes toxic.”

In­deed, there are el­e­ments of the 1994 NAFTA agree­ment that Canada finds toxic as well, es­pe­cially is­sues re­volv­ing around soft­wood lum­ber, a mat­ter of con­tention for three decades but un­der­stood only by a hand­ful of Washington and Ot­tawa lob­by­ists who have made a for­tune in this long­stand­ing, ar­cane dis­pute. This is­sue, which grows out of Cana­dian pro­vin­cial own­er­ship of tim­ber­land that the United States con­sid­ers a form of sub­sidy, was the first topic that David MacNaughton, the Cana­dian am­bas­sador to Washington, men­tioned in his con­ver­sa­tion with re­porters shortly af­ter the elec­tion.

But if Canada presses on lum­ber, the United States would likely press on dairy, auto and in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty mat­ters. It will not help that Trump and his cir­cle be­lieve Trudeau was an ar­dent sup­porter of for­mer Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton and had an open line to her cam­paign man­ager, John Podesta. But Cana­dian of­fi­cials rushed af­ter the elec­tion to em­pha­size that they have had what MacNaughton de­scribed as “many dis­cus­sions with peo­ple in­volved in the Trump cam­paign and in the tran­si­tion al­ready.”

Trump is close to Con­rad Black, the me­dia mogul, and to for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Brian Mul­roney, but oth­er­wise is known to have few con­nec­tions here. The 65-story Trump In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel and Tower on Bay Street, the Cana­dian equiv­a­lent of Wall Street, boasts “an Amer­i­can restaurant” but has been the cen­ter of fi­nan­cial and cul­tural con­tro­versy, with a Toronto city coun­cil­lor this year pe­ti­tion­ing to re­name the build­ing fol­low­ing Trump’s com­ments on ban­ning Mus­lims from en­ter­ing the United States.

While re­tain­ing the con­tours of NAFTA is a mat­ter of con­tro­versy in the United States, it is a mat­ter of con­vic­tion here.

Only two weeks ago, Canada signed the Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic and Trade Agree­ment, a ground­break­ing trade agree­ment with the Euro­pean Union. Even so, Canada’s eyes, skep­ti­cal per­haps but open, look south.

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