NAFTA ‘did not hap­pen by ac­ci­dent’: Mul­roney

The Prince George Citizen - - Local -

OT­TAWA — For­mer prime min­is­ter Brian Mul­roney of­fered a spir­ited de­fence of the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment in Wash­ing­ton on Tues­day, while warn­ing about the po­ten­tial im­pacts of a U.S. with­drawal from the deal.

The com­ments came as Mul­roney ap­peared be­fore the U.S. Se­nate com­mit­tee on for­eign re­la­tions, only days af­ter the lat­est round of NAFTA dis­cus­sions ended in Mon­treal with guarded op­ti­mism about the fu­ture.

Mul­roney was warmly greeted by the ma­jor- ity of U.S. sen­a­tors on the com­mit­tee, who were largely united in their be­lief that while NAFTA needs to be mod­ern­ized, the deal it­self had been a boon to their coun­try and North Amer­ica.

It was also clear that many of the com­mit­tee mem­bers wor­ried about U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s con­stant threats to pull out of the trade deal, which he has called a ter­ri­ble agree­ment for the U.S.

Mul­roney, who didn’t men­tion Trump by name through his ap­pear­ance, launched his tes­ti­mony by re­call­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with Ron­ald Rea­gan in 1985, which served as the gen­e­sis of what would be­come NAFTA.

He went on to as­sert in no uncer­tain terms that free trade had ben­e­fited the United States and Canada from an eco­nomic per­spec­tive and by ce­ment­ing the most peace­ful and pros­per­ous bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship in his­tory.

“NAFTA did not hap­pen by ac­ci­dent,” Mul­roney said. “In large mea­sure it was the re­sult of the lead­er­ship and vi­sion of three great Amer­i­can pres­i­dents: Ron­ald Rea­gan, Ge­orge Her­bert Walker Bush and Bill Clin­ton.”

Mul­roney ref­er­enced the three for­mer U.S. pres­i­dents sev­eral times dur­ing his tes­ti­mony.

Much of Trump’s crit­i­cism about the trade deal has cen­tred on con­cerns about a U.S. trade deficit with Canada and Mex­ico, mean­ing the Amer­i­cans im­port more than they ex­port.

Mul­roney con­tra­dicted such as­sess­ments, say­ing the U.S. ac­tu­ally en­joyed a US$7.7bil­lion sur­plus in goods and ser­vices with Canada last year, while not­ing sub­stan­tial Cana­dian and Mex­i­can in­vest­ments in the U.S. since the deal.

“How do you ex­plain to­day a 4.1 per cent un­em­ploy­ment rate in the United States, and a sim­i­lar rate in Canada and growing pros­per­ity in Mex­ico?” Mul­roney said.

“What hap­pened, of course, is that we got to­gether and we built a $21-tril­lion mar­ket with mil­lions and mil­lions of new jobs in North Amer­ica, in all places.”

A group of 36 Repub­li­can sen­a­tors also urged the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion not to pull out of the trade deal, but in­stead “mod­ern­ize it to bet­ter re­flect our 21st-cen­tury econ­omy.”

“Mod­ern­iz­ing NAFTA to in­crease mar­ket ac­cess, ex­pand en­ergy ex­ports to max­i­mize do­mes­tic en­ergy pro­duc­tion and in­clud­ing pro­vi­sions on in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty and e-com­merce will make this agree­ment even more ben­e­fi­cial to the United States,” the sen­a­tors wrote Tues­day in an open let­ter to Trump.

The sen­a­tors said Cana­di­ans and Mex­i­cans buy nearly $500 bil­lion worth of U.S. man­u­fac­tured goods each year, trans­lat­ing to $37,000 in ex­port rev­enue for ev­ery Amer­i­can fac­tory worker.

U.S. agri­cul­tural ex­ports to the two coun­tries have quadru­pled from $8.9 bil­lion in 1993 to $38.1 bil­lion in 2016, the let­ter said.

One of the key themes in Mul­roney’s tes­ti­mony was the role that Canada plays in as­sist­ing the U.S. with its na­tional se­cu­rity, whether by pro­tect­ing its north­ern bor­der or in its fight against the Is­lamic State group.

But the for­mer prime min­is­ter said such as­sis­tance is con­tin­gent on the strength of the Cana­dian econ­omy, which is highly re­liant on its trad­ing re­la­tion­ship with the United States.

“And if that is am­pu­tated from our re­la­tion­ship, our co-op­er­a­tion in se­cu­rity and in (ISIL) and in the mil­i­tary and NATO and NORAD, all of these things is less­ened,” Mul­roney said. “Be­cause it di­min­ishes our wealth and our ca­pac­ity to con­trib­ute to joint or tri­lat­eral en­deav­ours.”

Mul­roney was ap­pear­ing along­side for­mer U.S. am­bas­sador Earl An­thony Wayne and for­mer Mex­i­can sec­re­tary of com­merce Jaime Serra Puche, both of whom played key roles in ne­go­ti­at­ing NAFTA more than 25 years ago.

Wayne warned of sig­nif­i­cant job losses in the U.S. should the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion de­cide to with­draw from the trade deal, an as­sess­ment that was echoed by many of the sen­a­tors on the com­mit­tee.

The seventh round of NAFTA talks is sched­uled to be held in Mex­ico City from Feb. 26 to March 6.

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