According to an article in the Globe and Mail, Canada is, at the behest of Big Labour, trying to get Mexico and the USA to move closer to Canada’s labour standards rather than, just for example, enacting policies that make Canadian labour part of a more competitive, more productive economy. Andrew Coyne, of the National Post, says, on social media, that “This is beyond fatuous, and further evidence that the negotiations are a sham, played for the domestic audience.” It is a notion he has offered before, “Is it inconceivable, then,” he asked “that the Trudeau government is setting the talks up to fail? It would not be an unreasonable supposition on their part. Of three possible outcomes — a successful conclusion to the negotiations, leading to an agreement between the three countries on a renewed NAFTA; failure, followed by Trump making good on his threat to abrogate the treaty; and failure, unaccompanied by abrogation — the third may well be the most likely.” I have suggested that President Trump sees little of use in NAFTA, but that’s because he is an incredibly ill-read, untutored, unthinking buffoon; he wants to change the deal so that anything like “fair” trilateral arrangements are replaced by those that tilt the playing field in the USA’s favour. But that’s what Donald Trump wants; it is not, we might infer, what many state governors or industry leaders or members of the US Congress of even Administration officials want. Many ofd them understand that free(er) trade benefits all partners, including America. Neither of Ministers François-Philippe Champagne nor Chrystia Freeland are ill-read or unthinking; I do not believe that they really want NAFTA to be abrogated nor, I suspect, do they care much about the environmental, feminist or indigenous provisions inserted, I guess, by the PMO as a 2018-2019 campaign position (“See?” they will say “We tried to make the Americans more like us and, unfortunately, they are not like us and they beat up on us, instead, because they’s big, mean bullies, and it’s all Stephen Harper’s fault ~ Conservatives are bullies, too, who blamed me for giving Omar Khadr $10 Million.“)
Even if the NAFTA talks fail, I think, and even if President Trump unilaterally withdraws from NAFTA, Canada-US trade will remain strong and important. Yes, the US will want, even more than it usually does, to break its own laws and ignore its own treaty promises, but it was ever thus, since before 1776 when, during the Seven Years War, many profit hungry American traders actively aided France, even as then Colonel George Washington led his Virginia Regiment against the French in Ohio and Pennsylvania. America is not unique in wanting something for nothing, it’s pretty standard human nature but 21st century America is well positioned to bully its smaller neighbours to get its way.
Canada needs to be negotiating for all Canadian, not just Big Labour, the Big Banks and Big Bay Street businesses, but also in the interests of Main Street and Canada beyond the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto corridor. We can be 100% sure that, no matter what many US officials might think about their president or his policies, they will be negotiating, hard and skilfully, for every possible trade and commercial concession they can wring out of us and Mexico. One way to enhance our negotiating position would be for Ministers Champagne and Freeland to embark upon a series of visits, soon, this fall, to Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Sydney and Wellington to beat the free(er) trade drum and show the Americans that we are deadly serious about expanding into other markets so that we are somewhat less dependant on US goodwill. It may be that the most likely outcome is that the NAFTA talks fail but President Trump cannot secure congressional agreement to withdraw … i.e. something akin to the status quo. No one can blame the Liberal Party for crafting a political contingency plan to avoid blame if that happens.
Meanwhile, Conservatives should stick with Erin O’Toole’s plan to actively and publicly support the government when its trade positions make good sense for Canadians, but to sit on their hands, at least, when the government tries to advance its partisan, political, 2019 campaign agenda.