Trump and Trudeau

Trudeau rebuffs Trump’s trade talks criticisms


Any fondness between Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump has vanished, it became clear Thursday after the Canadian leader brushed off the US president’s criticism of Canada’s negotiating style in continental trade talks — casting doubts for a quick deal.

Trudeau said Trump views the negotiations to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as hard “because Canadians are tough negotiators, as we should be.”

Those efforts have stalled after a year of talks, despite ramping up in recent weeks after the US and Mexico made a breakthrough on bilateral issues.

According to the negotiators, Canada’s insistence on a trade dispute provision and its refusal to open up its protected dairy sector are the last major sticking points.

Ottawa is also seeking assurances that the United States will not, after signing a new NAFTA deal, turn around and hit Canada with punitive auto tariffs.

Canada’s ambassador to Washington David MacNaughton this week put the chance of concluding an agreement soon at 50/50.

“A good and fair deal is still very possible,” Trudeau said. “But we won’t sign a bad deal for Canada.”

On Wednesday in New York, Trump said he refused to meet with Trudeau on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly because Canada was treating the United States “very badly.”

“I must be honest with you, we’re not getting along with their negotiators,” Trump said. “We think their negotiators have taken advantage of our country for a long time.”

“With Canada, it’s very tough,” he said, adding that there was “still a chance” of reaching a deal.

“I’m not making (a deal that is) anything near what they want to do,” the American president added.

Trudeau’s Liberal government had launched a charm offensive in Trump’s early months in office to try to curry favor with the new president.

But their close relationship — once the envy of other foreign leaders — came to a crashing end following a divisive and bad-tempered summit of G7 nations in Canada in June, which saw Trump ramp up his rhetoric against Trudeau.

– September 30 deadline looms –

While Trudeau has tried to keep his head down and avoid further antagonizing Trump, he also has stood firm in demanding a fair deal in the trade negotiations.

“I think (the Canadians) gave it their best shot,” Colin Robertson, a former Canadian trade negotiator who helped deliver the original 1994 NAFTA, told AFP.

He said Trudeau tried for a good working relationship with Trump, “but at some point (he) realized it just wasn’t working.”

Observers said Canada now appears to be using Trump’s September 30 deadline for a NAFTA deal to try to get concessions from the Americans.

Trump would prefer to have the current Republican-controlled Congress ratify a deal before the November mid-term elections, and hold it up to voters as a win.

“Everyone is playing hardball,” said University of Ottawa professor Patrick Leblond. “Canada doesn’t care about the deadline and figures that if the US does, it’s up to them to make compromises.”

“The big question is what will Congress do?” he said.

If the Democrats sweep the November elections, they may wish to deny the Republican president any political wins going forward, and insist that Canada be part of any new continental trade pact.

If the Republicans maintain their majority, they may support Trump’s wishes — including killing NAFTA and moving forward with a US-Mexico trade agreement, without Canada.

“It’s a high stakes game (Trudeau’s) Liberals are playing right now,” Leblond said. “But they have no choice.”

If Trudeau caves to Trump’s demands for more access to its dairy sector, for example, his party would take a hit in next year’s general election.

If he holds firm and Canada loses its special access to the US market under NAFTA, it would be “catastrophic” for the Canadian economy — likely pushing it into a recession — as well as politically devastating.

“Canada is damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t,” opined Leblond.

“Given that, it makes sense for Canada to take a chance that the Democrats take Congress and will be more open to Canada’s position,” he concluded.

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NAFTA Deal? No slam dunk

NAFTA’s future is uncertain, but here’s one plausible scenario

Negotiations might be about to go on hiatus…until 2019, and separate U.S. deals with Canada and Mexico loom as a very possible outcome


Chrystia Freeland speaks to the media during the seventh round of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) talks in Mexico City, on March 5, 2018. (RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s been more than a year since the NAFTA renegotiations foisted on Canada and Mexico by U.S. President Donald Trump started, and so many so-called deadlines have come and gone since then that the word has lost its bite.

But this week, say senior Canadian government officials who spoke on condition they not be named, is different. The reason: When Trump announced his surprise bilateral agreement in principle with Mexico last month, he started a clock ticking that requires him, under the U.S. law known as the Trade Promotion Authority, to deliver the text of that deal by Sept. 30 to the U.S. Congress.

There’s still a slim chance that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s bargaining team will come to terms with Trump’s hardball negotiators over the next few days, in time to turn that bilateral U.S.-Mexico deal into a trilateral pact that includes Canada. But that looks increasingly like an extreme long shot.

The top-tier negotiators aren’t even meeting. Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, hand-picked by Trudeau to handle NAFTA, is at the United Nations in New York this week, tending to other international files. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Trump’s powerful lead on NAFTA and other trade files, was also in New York, where he said on Tuesday, “The fact is, Canada is not making concessions in areas where we think they’re essential.”

READ MORE: When it comes to NAFTA, deadlines are meaningless

Predicting what happens next is fiendishly difficult. Several sticking points remain far from being resolved, including Canada’s stiff resistance to U.S. demands that NAFTA’s dispute-settlement mechanism be scrapped. As well, the machinery of domestic U.S. and Mexican electoral politics is bringing complex moving parts into play. A new Mexican president is slated to be sworn in on Dec. 1, while U.S. mid-term congressional elections, which could shake up both the Senate and the House of Representatives, are coming in early November.

Still, stipulating that there are too many political and policy variables to predict anything with much confidence, a Canadian official sketched the following scenario as one that’s emerging as a distinct possibility:

  • Trump delivers to Congress the text of his bilateral deal with Mexico as scheduled on or before Sept. 30, and soon after asks Congress to grant his administration new authority to negotiate a bilateral deal with Canada.
  • Congress takes the allotted 60 days to consider the U.S.-Mexico deal already finalized, and 90 days to study the Trump administration’s plan for bargaining toward a separate U.S.-Canada deal.
  • Assuming Congress accepts the U.S.-Mexico pact, Trump signs that deal with outgoing Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto by late November, before Pena Nieto is succeeded in December by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the new Mexican president elected in July.
  • In early 2019, the U.S. Congress, likely reshaped by those midterm elections coming up in early November, takes up the work of ratifying the U.S.-Mexico deal. And, at roughly the same time, fresh Canada-U.S. talks pick up where this fall’s frustratingly inconclusive sessions left off.
  • That means ratification of the U.S.-Mexico deal and negotiation of a possible U.S.-Canada pact are happening in tandem, making it possible they could still be combined into a trilateral NAFTA 2.0. Another possibility: parallel bilateral trade deals between the U.S. and its two former NAFTA partners.

There are lot of assumptions built into that sequence, many of which are wide open to debate. Colin Robertson, a former diplomat and vice-president at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, says the actions of the U.S. Congress are just one serious question mark.

Will Congress accept that bilateral U.S.-Mexico deal, or insist on an agreement that includes Canada? Robertson says Democrats fired up by the battle over Senate confirmation of Trump’s controversial Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, appear to be in no mood to give any Trump proposition—including the bilateral U.S.-Mexico deal—an easy ride. “To assume it’s a slam-dunk in Congress, I just think is wrong,” Robertson said. “That would be my read watching the Democrats over the last weeks.”

Indeed, U.S. politics in the age of Trump are turbulent beyond the experience of any of the Canadian politicians or trade officials embroiled in these prolonged NAFTA renegotiations. Their hesitance to forecast anything is only prudent. But this much is clear: a future in which the nearly 25-year-old NAFTA is split in two is a prospect that Canadian officials are now mapping out seriously. This week’s deadline matters, and might even be looked back on one day as the start of the post-NAFTA era.

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NAFTA Deadlines

September 16, 2018

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland is facing pressure to return to Washington this week in a bid to conclude a NAFTA deal under a deadline set by the Americans.

Ms. Freeland will be in Ottawa for the resumption of Parliament Monday, where the Liberal government will be defending the view expressed by her and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that no deal is better than a bad deal when it comes to the North American free-trade agreement.

Top-level negotiations could resume as early as Tuesday between Ms. Freeland and her American counterpart, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, a federal government source said. But that has yet to be decided.

 Ms. Freeland and Mr. Lighthizer are expected to talk by telephone Monday to discuss whether she should return to Washington on Tuesday for more negotiations, the source said. Mr. Lighthizer signalled to the Canadians that he would be available if warranted on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next week.

Several trade experts said she is likely to make the trip given that she is working under a tight timeline to reach a deal that would prevent the United States and Mexico from moving forward with a bilateral agreement as U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened.

Mexico wants an agreement concluded before incoming president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador takes office on Dec. 1, and the U.S. administration must give Congress 60 days’ notice for a final text, meaning a Sept. 30 deadline. As well, Mr. Trump is keen to announce a new deal − which he wants renamed as the U.S.-Mexico agreement, or the U.S.-Mexico-Canada accord − prior to the November congressional elections, which are being billed as a referendum on his polarizing tenure in office.

“It’s do or die time for a trilateral deal if the goal is to get it done before Lopez Obrador takes office,” said Maryscott Greenwood, Washington-based chief executive of the Canadian American Business Council.

Ms. Greenwood said Canadian and American negotiators are making slow progress, but added that the United States appears willing to make some compromises. She noted that the U.S. side softened its position in a number of areas to reach an agreement in principle with Mexico late last month.

One veteran trade consultant questioned whether the end-of-month deadline is a real one.

“I think a deal is doable but we don’t have to be rushed,” said Colin Robertson, a former trade negotiator and vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. He said there is no reason that Mexico’s incoming president, Mr. Lopez Obrador, could not conclude the deal that was reached with his blessing by his predecessor, Enrique Pena Nieto

“We’ve had these false deadlines before and this seems to me to be the weakest of them all,” he said.

Ottawa could disregard the deadline and take time to pursue a more favourable deal, while counting on Congress to block the administration’s effort to exclude Canada from the trade agreement, Mr. Robertson said. Leading members of Congress and the American business community have said that any new trade deal must include Canada, but Mr. Trump is threatening to impose crippling tariffs on the Canadian auto industry if there is no trade deal.

Key stumbling blocks continue to be U.S. demands that Canada provide significantly greater access to its dairy industry and Ottawa’s insistence on maintaining the Chapter 19 dispute-settlement mechanism that gives parties the right to challenge one another’s application of duties and punitive tariffs. There are several other outstanding issues, including the U.S. desire for greater patent protection for a class of drugs known as biologics; Canada’s demand to have access to U.S. government procurement; and an American push to increase the value of purchases that Canadian shoppers can bring back duty free from the United States.

While Mr. Trump would clearly like to tout his success in renegotiating NAFTA for the mid-term election campaign, he will need Congressional approval to pass it into law. He already faces resistance there, but it will be far tougher for him if the Democrats win control of the House of Representatives as many pollsters and pundits now forecast, said Dan Ujczo, an Ohio-based international trade lawyer who has worked for the Canadian and U.S. governments and closely monitors the NAFTA talks.

Concluding the negotiations “are the least difficult part of what is left to do to complete a new NAFTA,” Mr. Ujczo said. “Getting this through Congress is going to be twice as hard as it was the first time around back in the 1990s, given the politics of trade in the United States right now.”

But Canada cannot count on Congress turning down a new deal and keeping the old one in place, he added. Instead, the Trump administration would likely abrogate the existing deal at the same time it puts the new one before Congress.

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NAFTA Negotiations

Colin Robertson joined CBC’s Vassy Kapelos & Katie Simpson yesterday to answer social media questions on NAFTA:You can watch the full special episode on Power & Politics Here.

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NAFTA: What Next?

Despite Trump’s threats, it won’t be easy to cut Canada out of NAFTA, experts say

OTTAWA—U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat to leave Canada out of a new NAFTA deal heightened tensions and capped an already dramatic week of negotiations, but some experts say the threat isn’t quite as direct as it seems.

On Saturday, Trump threatened to go it alone with Mexico on a revised agreement or to terminate NAFTA entirely.One U.S. trade lawyer said the “real test” of President Donald Trump’s trade policy lies with his base of support, who may not back any attempt to cut Canada out of a revised NAFTA.

“There is no political necessity to keep Canada in the new NAFTA deal,” he tweeted, while on his way to play golf. “If we don’t make a fair deal for the U.S. after decades of abuse, Canada will be out. Congress should not interfere w/ these negotiations or I will simply terminate NAFTA entirely & we will be far better off.”

Read more:

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Deal, or no deal, NAFTA uncertainty means consumers lose out, say experts

With memories fresh from U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum, Canadian officials are mindful that Trump’s threats aren’t all bluster.

But experts say it won’t be quite that easy to cut Canada out of a revised North American Free Trade Agreement.

For starters, Congress has a critical say on trade agreements, noted Toronto-based international trade lawyer Lawrence Herman.

“Trump has no authority from Congress to end NAFTA and do a bilateral deal with Mexico as he threatens. I suspect lots of political pushback and, importantly, legal challenges to any such attempt,” Herman said on Twitter.

U.S. trade lawyer Dan Ujczo said he doesn’t see a procedural barrier to going forward with Mexico alone, but he does think political considerations would scuttle such a move.

“The issue is whether Congress will stand up to the president,” Ujczo said in an interview Sunday. “It’s a political question, not a procedural question. At the end of the day, it will be up to Congress to decide whether we can proceed with a bilateral deal as opposed to a trilateral.”

Aside from the procedural questions, including a six-month notice requirement, Trump would also certainly face a backlash from members of Congress, state governors and U.S. business leaders whose constituencies and companies would pay an economic price if Canada — America’s largest goods export market in 2017 — were left out.

Even before trade negotiations got underway, Ottawa had begun a concerted strategy to reach out to U.S. stakeholders to drive home the benefits of Canada-U.S. trade and what it meant economically to their individual districts.

That’s helped build valuable allies.

On Friday, Thomas J. Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, issued a statement stressing that a revised NAFTA must include all three countries.

“NAFTA’s many strengths rest on the fact that it ties together three economically vibrant nations, drawing upon each of our strengths to boost the competitiveness of the whole. If you break off one member of this agreement, you break it all, and that would be bad news for U.S. businesses, for American jobs, and for economic growth,” Donohue said.

He warned that unless the new deal is a trilateral one, it won’t get congressional backing or the support of the business community.

In the view of the Canadians, this gives them leverage at the bargaining table, an assessment backed by Ujczo.

“Right now, the U.S. has the negotiating leverage in the negotiating room but Canada has the leverage in terms of Congress, the business community and the general U.S. public, but that balance will not last forever,” Ujczo said.

Ujczo said the “real test” of the president’s trade policy lies not with Trump but rather with his base of support.

“I think the real question is where is Trump’s base on Canada,” he said.

“I can say as someone who lives in Ohio, I don’t think for the time being there’s a great deal of support to proceed with a deal absent Canada,” he said.

But he cautioned that the issues that appear to be sticking points in Canada-U.S. discussions — Canada’s supply management system, dispute settlement and cultural protections — aren’t likely to find many defenders south of the border.

In the meantime, while Trump continues to churn the waters, Ujczo notes that these threats and “theatrics” are part of his negotiating tactics.

“Don’t underestimate the strategy of good cop, not-so-good cop and bad cop,” he said. “Others can decide who falls into what category.”

It’s all part of the president’s no-compromise bargaining style, as he bluntly stated in private comments revealed by the Star’s Daniel Dale on Friday.

In an off-the-record conversation with Bloomberg journalists, leaked to Dale by a source, Trump said that any deal with Canada would be “totally on our terms.”

Trump grumbled about Canada on social media on Saturday, reprising views that the northern neighbour had been taking advantage of the U.S. “for many years” and that NAFTA was one of the “worst trade deals ever” that cost the U.S. “thousands of businesses and millions of jobs.

“We were far better off before NAFTA — should never have been signed … We make new deal or go back to pre-NAFTA!” Trump said on Twitter.

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks during a news conference at the Canadian Embassy after talks at the Office of the United States Trade Representative, in Washington, Friday, Aug. 31. Freeland told the press that NAFTA negotiations are “making progress,” but aren’t “there yet.” Freeland added that a “win-win-win agreement is within reach.”

Trump’s comments ignore data that shows U.S. exports in goods and services have soared since NAFTA was signed. The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office says that U.S. exports to Canada are up 181 per cent from 1993 and U.S. exports of services to Canada are up from pre-NAFTA levels by some 243 per cent.

For now, the Canadians are insisting they won’t be rattled by Trump’s Saturday warning that Canada could be left out of a revised North American Free Trade Agreement.

And as they prepare to resume negotiations Wednesday, they say they are optimistic. Driving that optimism was agreement on auto content that would favour Canada and the United States because of their higher-wage workers, making it less appealing for manufacturers to move production to Mexico. While that was part of the preliminary deal reached by Mexico and the U.S., it follows on proposals made by Canada earlier in the talks.

“If implemented it would be very progressive for Canadian workers and Canadian labour. It was important for the United States and Mexico to get that work done,” said one official familiar with the discussions.

“We continue to work, we continue to talk, we continue to make progress. But for the government of Canada to sign an agreement, it needs to be in the best interests of Canada and Canadians,” the official said.

At this key time, Canada cannot let up on its targeted cultivation of U.S. contacts, former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson said, in order to keep pressure on the White House not to leave Canada by the wayside.

“Keep calm and carry on with our current strategy of working Congress and the states, especially governors, and reminding U.S. business that we matter to each other,” said Robertson, a vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Given Trump’s sharp-elbowed trade tactics, that strategy will remain in place going forward, Robertson said, to protect Canada’s interests.

“Normally we use the president/administration as a shield against a protectionist Congress. Now we are using Congress and the states, especially governors, as a shield against a mercantilist president,” Robertson said in an email exchange with the Star.

“I think it will oblige us to make a strategic shift in our long-term advocacy in the U.S.A.,” he said.

Others caution that Trump’s tactics have badly damaged Canada-U.S. relations.

The president’s treatment of Canada through this process is the “definition of insanity,” Bruce Heyman, the former U.S. ambassador to Canada, told CNBC’s Squawk on the Streeton Sunday.

“The U.S. has all the leverage in the world, but just because you can doesn’t mean you should. When you take your best friend, your greatest ally in the world and start squeezing them, you can win but I will tell you, the relationship will be damaged much longer than it will take the ink to dry on a new NAFTA deal,” Heyman said.

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The Final Round NAFTA?

A little more than a year after negotiations began on a revised North American free-trade agreement, a deal looks possible, although big questions remain.

For much of the past two months, Mexican and American negotiators have wrestled with the U.S. demand around the content rules for our most-traded commodity, the automobile. North Americans produce 17.5 million cars or trucks annually. The original U.S. demand of 85 per cent North American content with 50 per cent of that “Made in the USA” has apparently morphed into 75 per cent North American content with 40 per cent to 45 per cent made by workers making US$16 or more a hour.

The devil is always in the details, but Canadian industry and its workers can live with this and, if this gives U.S. President Donald Trump his “win,” then we are on our way to a deal.

So, too, with the “sunset” clause. Originally, the United States wanted the new agreement to lapse after five years – something investors said would freeze investment, especially into Canada and Mexico. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer reportedly says it will now be 16 years with a review after six years. We can live with that.

On dispute settlement, or Chapter 19, the picture is murky and we will need clarification. The Trump team originally wanted to jettison the binational mechanism, and it appears there will be investor-state provisions, something U.S. industry lobbied hard to retain, and some form of recourse, beyond the U.S. system, for energy and infrastructure. Canada and Mexico need to stand firm. We need recourse from U.S. trade-remedy legislation – countervail, anti-dump and, as the Trump administration misapplies it, national security.

If reports are accurate, there appears to be near-agreement on agriculture (good for Canadian farmers) and on intellectual property (unchanged) but again, the devil will be in the details.

The negotiators were originally aiming for 30-plus chapters of NAFTA but until now only nine had been closed and, of course, nothing is truly closed until it is all done.

So what remains and how might they be resolved? From Canada’s perspective, assuming we can work out dispute settlement, we need to see action on three more items.

  • Government procurement: Canada wants to retain open access, but the United States is offering a derisory dollar-for-dollar deal. If we cannot work this out, we should leave it to governors and premiers to work out the kind of reciprocal procurement deal that they achieved in 2010. This could be regional or national; the incentive for both sides is that an outside bidder curbs local price-fixing. This will be important especially if Mr. Trump proceeds with his trillion-dollar “Big Build” infrastructure initiative.
  • Labour mobility: We want to update for the digital age the ease of passage for designated occupations. Businesses, especially those with North American supply chains, need this to maintain competitiveness. In the current U.S. environment, this is probably a stretch. We would do well if we can maintain the current list and punt this over to a separate negotiation.
  • Dairy access: Mr. Trump continues to single this out. It is time to reform supply management just as we did with our wine industry through the original Canada-U.S. free-trade agreement in 1987 and then our managed trade in grain. Provide adjustment assistance but open up our dairy and poultry industries, which make good products and, like our beef and pork sectors, and now our grains and pulse production, they can be world-beaters.

While Mr. Trump thinks negotiations can wrap up this week, we will likely see fall leaves and probably snow before the deal is done. Legislative ratification, especially in the United States, is an even bigger question mark. It will likely be the next Congress, chosen in November and taking office in January, that will give “up or down” approval to the new accord. It won’t be easy.

The coming days – more likely weeks – will be a test of Canadian negotiators. They are a very experienced team and they are up to the task as long as the government has their backs.

This is the bigger question: Can the Trudeau government take the political flak that will inevitably come its way? It won’t be sunny ways. If it can stick it out, the Trudeau government will make as big a contribution to Canadian well being and competitiveness as Brian Mulroney and his Progressive Conservative government did with the original Canada-U.S. FTA and then the NAFTA. It would be no small legacy.

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Grading NAFTA: A year on

While some progress has been made, a deal still hasn’t been reached. Autos and the U.S. demand for a sunset clause have been key sticking points. Meanwhile, Canada has become one of Donald Trump’s main targets in recent weeks with the U.S. president threatening more tariffs on Canadian car imports if a deal isn’t struck.

Below, four experts weigh in on Canada’s progress in the talks so far and offer their view on what needs to happen next.


What’s ahead for NAFTA as U.S. and Mexico meet again without Canada

Colin Robertson, VP and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and member of the team that negotiated the original NAFTA deal, joins BNN Bloomberg to provide perspective on what’s ahead in NAFTA 2.0 negotiations, as the U.S. and Mexico meet.


Grade: A, for exhibiting Hemingway’s definition of courage: “grace under pressure”

What has been the biggest hurdle for Canada so far?

“Donald Trump. Does he want a NAFTA or not?  Is the administration prepared to negotiate on the remaining critical issues: dispute settlement (chapters 11, 19, 20) and government procurement?”

What has been Canada’s biggest success?

“We are still in negotiation and the Canada-Mexico partnership remains solid.”

What has been the biggest disappointment?

“U.S. intransigence and the sense that their negotiating team is awaiting instructions on their mandate and scope for negotiation.”

What is the most important thing Canada needs to do going forward?

“Keep negotiating and trying to make progress on the issues. Keep in mind the average negotiation for a deal of this size even renegotiated is three-to-five years. We are actually making reasonable progress given the complexities involved. Granted, a lot of what is being negotiated was already negotiated by the U.S., Canada and Mexico in the TPP and many of the negotiators are the same. So there is familiarity with the issues and one another.”

What has been the biggest surprise throughout the negotiations?  

“Donald Trump’s personal involvement. He has so much policy ground to choose from but he has made NAFTA a personal interest as we have learned to our surprise and disappointment in his tweets.”


Ottawa mulling steel safeguards: Is this a wise move?

Maryscott Greenwood, CEO of the Canadian American Business Council, joins BNN Bloomberg to discuss Ottawa’s decision to launch consultations with the aim of protecting Canada’s steel industry, and what’s ahead for NAFTA.


Grade: I for incomplete

What has been the biggest hurdle for Canada so far?

“I would say the unpredictability of the U.S.”

What has been Canada’s biggest success?

“Raising awareness in the U.S. and Canada of the importance of our economic relationship.”

What has been the biggest disappointment?

“Not getting a deal done yet.”

What is the most important thing Canada needs to do going forward?

“Canada needs to come to the table with practical deals in mind. Focus on the practicality as opposed to the principle.”

What has been the biggest surprise throughout the negotiations?  

“The fact that [Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador], the new president of Mexico, has been eager to conclude a modernized NAFTA before he takes office on Dec. 1.”


Trump’s focus on tariffs still truly remain China: Trade expert

Christopher Sands, director of the Center for Canadian Studies at Johns Hopkins University, joins BNN Bloomberg’s Catherine Murray for a look at the growing ripple effects from Trump’s tariffs.


Grade: C

What has been the biggest hurdle for Canada so far?

“Overcoming an initial impression (given by President Trump) that the renegotiation of NAFTA would involve only ‘tweaks’ with regard to Canada-U.S. trade arrangements. This led Canada to play it safe with a defensive strategy that was hard to abandon when the gravity of the talks became more apparent (lots of clues are visible in retrospect).”

What has been Canada’s biggest success?

“Mobilizing an impressive outreach to the Congress, state governors and legislators on the benefits to the United States of trade with Canada … Combined with a thoughtful outreach to the Trump administration, including White House staff and cabinet departments, the Canadian effort was more extensive that any that a foreign country has ever mounted in the United States.”

What has been the biggest disappointment?

“It would be a tie for me. First, the failure of the impressive Canadian outreach to garner a single concession from the United States – not on softwood lumber, not on gypsum – which was then followed by the self-destructive Canadian attack on U.S. trade remedy practices now pending before the World Trade Organization, a clear sign of Canadian frustration.

“Second, the business community in both Canada and the United States has been far less effective at defending the integrated continental supply chains that link the three NAFTA economies. Why? I still don’t really know.”

What is the most important thing Canada needs to do going forward?

“Heal the breach with the Trump White House.”

What has been the biggest surprise throughout the negotiations? 

“Almost all of the things I have mentioned above surprised me, but the suspension of the NAFTA talks in June followed by their resumption on a bilateral basis by the U.S. and Mexico was the biggest surprise.”


Trump playing ‘old-fashioned leverage’ with Canada freeze-out: Trade lawyer

Mark Warner, principal at MAAW Law, joins BNN Bloomberg to provide perspective on Trump’s latest tweet on NAFTA, in which he essentially says he’s freezing Canada out of talks.


Grade: A+ for effort in engaging with key stakeholders, B+ overall

What has been the biggest hurdle for Canada so far?

“The biggest hurdle for Canada in the NAFTA negotiations so far has been in grappling with the scope of the Trump administration’s demands to roll back some of the perceived gains from NAFTA in the area of dispute settlement (and demand for a sunset clause) and to deal with traditional U.S. demands for concessions in areas like supply management for the price of maintaining NAFTA rather than for new U.S. concessions.”

What has been Canada’s biggest success?

“The biggest success for Canada has been to keep drawing out the negotiations without Trump triggering a notice of withdrawal to Canada and Mexico. That said, the price of doing so has been increased investment uncertainty and the strategy has led Trump to seek other opportunities for leverage in the negotiations outside NAFTA, most notably in Canada’s inclusion in the Section 232 national security tariffs on steel and aluminum and threatened ones on autos.”

What has been the biggest disappointment?

“The biggest disappointment is that Canada has adopted a passive, defensive approach to the NAFTA renegotiation with engagement mostly with U.S. stakeholders rather than proactively engaging stakeholders in Canada for self-interested policy or market access concessions that could be offered up to move Canada out of Trump’s attention (e.g. supply management).”

What is the most important thing Canada needs to do going forward?

“The most important thing Canada needs to do right now is to find something to offer in the NAFTA negotiations to avoid Trump imposing Section 232 national security tariffs on exports of autos and auto parts from Canada. And to end the spiral of ‘tit for tat’ tariff retaliation, which is a game that ultimately Canada cannot win because of the asymmetries in the size of the two economies and relative importance of bilateral trade to each country.”

What has been the biggest surprise throughout the negotiations?  

“The biggest surprise to me is that Canada and Mexico have managed to hang together, at least publicly, until recently, although I wonder whether the time horizons of the newly-elected Mexican president and the Canadian prime minister approaching his re-election year will stay aligned if the NAFTA negotiations continue.”

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NAFTA and Trump

 Sentiment Factoring Into NAFTA Negotiations
Colin Robertson – Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Farmscape for August 13, 2018

The Vice-President of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute suggests a growing protectionist sentiment within the United States is factoring into the NAFA negotiations.
Negotiations aimed at modernizing the North American Free Trade Agreement are essentially on hold until next year awaiting results of the U.S, mid-term elections.
Colin Robertson, the Vice-President and a fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, says the U.S. public and now a large number of elected representatives in Congress and at the state level, recognize the value of NAFTA but the tide of protectionism is increasing.

Clip-Colin Robertson-Canadian Global Affairs Institute:
Polling, and I rely particularly on Pew, P E W, I think they’re the gold standard for polling in the United States, their most recent poll, which I think was March or April, suggested that a majority of Americans, around 55 to 60 percent see value in free trade agreements.
They think the United States has actually got something out of it.
They see particular value in a Canada-U.S. free trade agreement because they think we’re fair traders.
However the same polling shows that the base of the Republican party is becoming increasingly protectionist, more protectionist indeed than their representatives and it is that base that Donald Trump relies upon.
A good 40 percent to 50 percent of his base is really anti-trade.
When he speaks on trade he’s playing to that base and that is a factor we have to take into account because that’s the group he’s going to rely upon if he wants to seek reelection in 2020.

Robertson  suggests pressure from the farm community, which voted mostly for President Trump, and the manufacturing sector, many of whom voted for President Trump, is probably what has kept him from rescinding the NAFTA but it has not influenced the administration to bend on some of its more unreasonable positions.
For Farmscape.Ca, I’m Bruce Cochrane.

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What’s ahead for NAFTA as U.S. and Mexico meet again without Canada

Colin Robertson, VP and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and member of the team that negotiated the original NAFTA deal, joins BNN Bloomberg to provide perspective on what’s ahead in NAFTA 2.0 negotiations, as the U.S. and Mexico meet.

  • 08/09/2018 – 3:15 PM EDT
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    Colin Robertson, VP and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and member of the team that negotiated the original NAFTA deal,...


    What’s ahead for NAFTA as U.S. and Mexico meet again without Canada

    Colin Robertson, VP and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and member of the team that negotiated the original NAFTA deal, joins BNN Bloomberg to provide perspective on what’s ahead in NAFTA 2.0 negotiations, as the U.S. and Mexico meet.


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Canada, Mexico and NAFTA

Should Canada ditch Mexico and go it alone with U.S. on new trade agreement?

NAFTA was designed to help Mexico, but now it’s hurting Canada, argues journalist

As NAFTA talks become ever more fractious, some commentators are asking whether it’s time to disband the three-way agreement and form bilateral pacts between the countries. (Judi Bottoni/Associated Press)


Canada should recognize Mexico as a “toxic” trading partner, and pull out of NAFTA in favour of a bilateral trade agreement with the U.S., says Diane Francis, editor at large with the National Post.

“Canada should look after Canada,” Francis told The Current’s Anna Maria Tremonti. “We have nothing to be sorry about.”

The U.S. announced Thursday that Canada, Mexico and the E.U. would be subject to tariffs of 25 per cent on imported steel and 10 per cent on aluminum. Ottawa responded with a promise of dollar-for-dollar tariffs on a variety of goods.

Industry insiders said the U.S. tariffs are intended as leverage over NAFTA negotiations, which stalled last month. In a tweet earlier today, U.S. President Donald Trump condemned Canadian “trade barriers.”

Donald J. Trump


Farmers have not been doing well for 15 years. Mexico, Canada, China and others have treated them unfairly. By the time I finish trade talks, that will change. Big trade barriers against U.S. farmers, and other businesses, will finally be broken. Massive trade deficits no longer!

Francis told Tremonti that signing the trade deal with Mexico in 1994 “was a bootstrapping exercise to help the neighbour to the south get better living standards, higher wages and get their act together.”

But more than two decades later, Francis said that Mexico is worse off now than it was back then.

Those low wages are bad for Mexican workers, Francis said, but low costs also draw investors south, hurting Canada’s industrial base.

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton signs the North American Free Trade Agreement Dec. 8, 1993. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

By contrast, Francis points to the strong, “harmonious” trading relationship between Canada and the U.S.

“Bilaterally, we have so few irritants between each other,” she said.

She argued that adding Mexico to the mix and trying to “cling to a trilateral agreement” isn’t in Canada’s best interest.

Mexico is a ‘hidden success story’

Turning away from Mexico would be a strategic blunder, according to Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who helped to negotiate the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in the late ’80s, and then later NAFTA.

“[It] would put us at a disadvantage with both the United States and any effort we wanted to have to expand trading ties, especially within the Americas,” he told Tremonti.

“I think there’d be a certain temptation on the part of Latinos: If we were to throw Mexico under the bus, then they would think, ‘How reliable is this further gringo to the north?'”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico city on Oct. 12, 2017. Former diplomat Colin Robertson said that the countries had formed a strong alliance through NAFTA. (Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images)

Mexico has been a “hidden success story” of NAFTA, he said, with improvements in the democratic process and a growing middle class.

“When we went into the North American Free Trade Agreement it was about number 13 or 14 in the list of our trading partners,” said Robertson, who is now vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

“It’s now our third largest trading partner, we’ve got big investments in mining and banking and manufacturing.”

Robertson pointed to the country-of-origin labelling dispute over meat products in the late 2000s as an example of Canada and Mexico working together to win a dispute with the U.S.

“[Donald Trump’s book] The Art of the Deal is all about divide and conquer,” Robertson said, “and it would make no sense for us to separate from Mexico when together we have a much better chance of getting a good agreement.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington, where they discussed NAFTA on Oct. 11, 2017. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The elephant and the mouse

Seeing Mexico as an ally against the U.S. is a mistake, Francis argued, because Mexico and Canada represent only 7 per cent of the three countries’ combined GDP.

Comparing the U.S. and Canadian economies is like comparing an elephant and a mouse, she added — referencing Pierre Trudeau’s famous analogy from 1969.

“Now we’re aligned with another mouse, who’s toxic, and is actually kind of toxic to us.”

Ending the deal and pursuing separate agreements is the solution, she believes.

“I really think that we need to reorient ourselves, and get in the same space to a certain extent, as the Americans are, vis-a-vis Mexico,” she said.

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this page.

This segment was produced by The Current’s Idella Sturino and Pacinthe Mattar.

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