NAFTA Election 2019

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NDP says position unchanged on renegotiation for new NAFTA, despite saying improvements ‘can and should be made to this deal’

By NEIL MOSS      
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the Democrats are ‘making progress’ in negotiations with the White House over the new trade pact.

The NDP will wait to see what changes are made by U.S. House Democrats to the new NAFTA before deciding whether they will vote to implement it in the next Parliament, says its most recent international trade critic.

“We will have a full debate in the next Parliament and a vote based on whatever the results are out of the U.S.,” NDP MP Tracey Ramsey (Essex, Ont.) told The Hill Times in a phone interview last week. She was the her party’s international trade critic in the 42nd Parliament.

Speaking to CBC on Sept. 30, Ms. Ramsey, who won her riding in the last election with 41.4 per cent of the vote, questioned the decision to agree to the trade pact in the first place.

“We should have never signed the deal,” said Ms. Ramsey. “There are improvements that can and should be made to this deal and we would make every effort to ensure that we do so.”

In response to the a CBC tweet that the NDP would renegotiate the new NAFTA, Ms. Ramsey told The Hill Times there was a “misunderstanding” of her comments.

“I never said that we would renegotiate,” she said. “Our position on the new NAFTA has not changed at all.”

After a gruelling renegotiation of NATFA, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA)—also called the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA)—was signed by the three North American nations on the margins of the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Nov. 30, 2018.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, then-Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto, left, and U.S. President Donald Trump signed the USMCA on Nov. 30, 2018, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Behind the leaders are former Mexican economy secretary Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. Photograph by Shealah Craighead/White House

The trade deal was ratified by the Mexican Senate in June. While in the United States, the negotiations continue between the White House and House of Representative Democrats before Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will bring it to the floor for a vote.

Ms. Pelosi told reporters last week that Democrats are “making progress” and are “on a path to yes.”

She said the outstanding issue remains the enforceability of provisions in the agreement.

“We are quite keen,” Ms. Ramsey said in a phone interview last week with The Hill Times, “to see what improvements they will make in the United States. And then I imagine they will bring that to us in Canada, and we will be able to have that full debate in the next Parliament.”

Asked what improvements would need to be made for the NDP to vote in favour of implementation, Ms. Ramsey said she didn’t want to “pre-judge” the work on Capitol Hill.

“We know they have a history of opening up agreements and improving them,” she said, pointing out the House Democrats concerns over the enforceability of labour and environmental provisions.

But Colin Robertson, a former diplomat who sat on the trade deputy minister’s NAFTA advisory council, said the NDP position is “irrelevant” no matter if the Liberals or Conservatives form a minority or majority government because the Tories and Grits will be voting to implement the pact.

“Any amendments [added by the United States] are only likely to work to our benefit,” Mr. Robertson said, who was part of the original Canadian negotiation team during Canada-U.S. free trade talks in the late 1980s.

He said because the changes are likely to involve environmental and labour provision enforcement on Mexico, it is something Canada would want.

“It’s exactly the kind of things we argued for in the negotiations themselves,” Mr. Robertson said, adding if there is change to reduce the patent protection on biologics it would work in Canada’s favour as it was a concession that Canada had to give the U.S. during the talks.

The Liberal government has said they will proceed “in tandem” with the United States on ratification. Before the House of Commons was adjourned in June, Bill C-100—a bill to implement USMCA—was read a second time on division and referred to the House Committee on International Trade.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh (Burnaby South, B.C.) told reporters in Toronto on Oct. 3 that an NDP government would be in “no rush” to implement the USMCA.

“What’s the point of having provisions on labour rights, having provisions on the environment, if there’s no enforceability? That’s—to me—meaningless,” he said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.) countered in a tweet directed at Mr. Singh that the government “negotiated and secured enforceable, standalone chapters on labour and the environment,” and said “facts matter.”

Eric Miller, a former diplomat and president of the Rideau Potomac Strategy Group, said the NDP doesn’t have a strong track record supporting Canada’s trade agreements.

Mr. Miller said the challenge for the NDP on saying they will wait on the House Democrats is what if the agreement reached in D.C., isn’t one they agree with.

“What happens if the House Democrats deliver something much less than they would like on the environment? Are they looking for their ideal agreement? Are they willing to accept something less?”

Mr. Miller, who also sits on the trade deputy minister’s NAFTA advisory council, said of the Canadian government’s position of saying they will not go back to the negotiation table is that if the deal gets renegotiated, the U.S. could ask for more concessions, such as even more access to Canada’s supply managed dairy sector.

“There’s a very good reason why the outward view that Canada has taken is to not be willing to accept changes,” he said, adding that if House Democrats wanted to change some conditions of the agreement back to what Canada was asking for at the negotiation table then Canada will gladly agree.

Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association Canada, questioned why would Canada want to risk the gains Canada got in the USMCA by re-opening the agreement.

“Why would you risk the gains we got in automotive, for example, against a belligerent counter party who—by the way—is increasingly unhinged in an impeachment inquiry?” Mr. Volpe said, adding especially for the NDP who are disproportionately representing a lot of automotive ridings.

Mr. Volpe, a former Liberal staffer in the the provincial government of former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty and whose father is former Liberal MP Joe Volpe, said the trade pact is a good one.

“We got a net-positive deal negotiating with a madman. I’m very satisfied with where we went and the way … Canada conducted itself with coordination with industry. I don’t think I’d like to try again. I’d like to take what we got,” he said.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Que.) has said that Mr. Trudeau agreed to a weaker North American trade agreement. But he said earlier in the election campaign that if the Conservatives form government, they will vote to implement the pact.

Green Party MP Paul Manly (Nanaimo-Ladysmith, B.C.), his party’s international trade critic in the 42nd Parliament, said the Greens will have an open vote on the implementation in the next Parliament.

“When we were looking at this, [Green Party Leader] Elizabeth [May] and I were actually of two different views on it. So probably if the vote came up in Parliament, I would have voted against the new NAFTA and she may have voted for it.”

Mr. Manly said that Ms. May (Saanich-Gulf Islands, B.C.) doesn’t think that Canada can get a better deal. But he said the Canadian government could.

He said the caucus would try to reach consensus, but it would not be a whipped vote.

Trump remains ‘great unknown’ in USMCA ratification; concern over NAFTA withdrawal: former diplomat

Mr. Miller said U.S. President Donald Trump remains “the great unknown” if the USMCA will be implemented.

“If he continues to put out these points of disruption, you could end up seeing them snatching defeat from the jaws of victory,” he said.

Mr. Miller added that he is “concerned” over if Mr. Trump would decide to withdraw from NAFTA and it is something that needs to be “actively” worried about.

“If you’re Trump, what better thing to do than to reframe the debate about your signature trade deal. Not from new NAFTA versus old NAFTA, you reframe as new NAFTA versus no NAFTA,” he said.

In the past, Mr. Trump has threatened to withdraw from NAFTA if Congress didn’t ratify the USMCA. But he said among Canadian business leaders, that threat has receded.

“If USMCA looks like it is struggling … then why would Donald Trump who is willing to do many things, not use that tool to push things forward,” Mr. Miller added.

“The USMCA is a victory for the president,” Mr. Volpe said, adding if Mr. Trump decided to withdraw from the original NAFTA he will “reset the standard on reckless behaviour.”

Mr. Volpe said it’s hard to see the upside for throwing away one of the few achievements that Mr. Trump has.

Mr. Miller said the current impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives could give House Democrats coverage to vote in favour of USMCA while not be seen supporting a victory for U.S. President Donald Trump.

“The whole idea of not wanting to give Trump a win is not something they have to worry about because if you are saying you are voting for the Trump trade deal, but you are in the process of impeaching him, how can someone say that you’re soft on Trump?” Mr. Miller said.