Ottawa plans for future with or without NAFTA
Freeland is latest minister to venture to U.S. in effort to boost support for pact
OTTAWA— The Liberal government is preparing for several possible outcomes of the next round of NAFTA talks including U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat to quit the North American free trade pact, officials say.
With an eye on that threat possibly becoming real, Canadian ministers and consular officials have again fanned out across the U.S. seeking to boost grassroots support among chambers of commerce, businesspeople, farmers, union leaders and local and state legislators. The hope would be to persuade Congress to block any move to kill NAFTA.
But Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who met Tuesday with top U.S. officials and congressional leaders in Washington, remains hopeful significant progress might be made at the Montreal negotiations later this month so that talks continue into another round.
“We are preparing for alternate scenarios. We’d be naive if we didn’t acknowledge this could go a number of possible ways,” said Freeland’s spokesperson, Alex Lawrence.
But Unifor president Jerry Dias said the NAFTA renegotiation will end only one way — in a failure.
“Look, if there’s a way to salvage this I think that the Canadian team is doing everything it can to salvage it. But ultimately the only way this thing will get done is if one of the two parties surrenders peacefully, and that’s not going to happen,” he said. “This is about politics, it’s not about economics.”
The Liberal government denies Freeland’s trip was a last-minute scramble, saying it is part of an advocacy push that kicked off last week.
After her meetings, Freeland issued a statement emphasizing the benefits of two-way trade. “This is why, from day one of the negotiations, Canada has brought concrete pro- posals on how we can modernize NAFTA to the benefit of Canadian, American and Mexican citizens. We are focused on achieving real progress, including in Montreal later this month.”
Freeland met with Trump’s Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, as well as several senators. She also met with House ways and means member Dave Reichert, a Republican congressional representative in Washington state.
Last week, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, speaking at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged that on both sides of the border there are “anxieties and sensitivities about trade.”
Goodale said when sectors run into trouble, “it’s sometimes easy to find an excuse for that in foreign trade, in allegations of unfair competition. There’s an instinct to throw up barriers . . . on both sides.”
But he warned “independent studies suggest, without NAFTA, trade within North America would decline by more than $120 billion (U.S.) over the next six years.”
There is growing pressure for advances at the next round of trade talks, with elections in Mexico scheduled for July, and the current governing party there facing a popular opposition party that opposes NAFTA.
And another election season in the U.S. will soon kick off with wary Republicans eyeing the November midterm votes.
In a rare showing of bipartisan cooperation in Canada, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who last fall criticized Justin Trudeau’s “mishandling” of the talks, is taking his own delegation of Conservative MPs to Washington next week and working with Freeland’s office to co-ordinate messages.