The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce told an audience of Canadian business executives Monday that he will defend the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and take whatever steps are necessary to preserve the trade deal despite President Donald Trump’s vow to tear it up.
Chamber of Commerce chief executive Tom Donohue told the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa that “withdrawing from NAFTA would be devastating for the workers, businesses, and economies of our countries.”
He suggested that rhetoric might be dominating the headlines right now but that quiet talks between key trade officials are ensuring the continuance of the tri-party trade agreement. “Beneath all the debates, arguments, and attention-grabbing headlines, I think our leaders across the board understand this.”
Trump is expected to formally re-open NAFTA negotiations in a matter of weeks.
Donohue encouraged his listeners to find every opportunity to publicly support the trade agreement.
“It’s our job to ensure that our leaders understand and appreciate how much of our prosperity is linked to this relationship,” he said.
Although some observers are encouraging free trade between the U.S. and Canada, Donohue said he believes it would be a mistake to exclude Mexico from any amended trade agreement due to the cross-border influence of many manufacturing industries.
“The way we’ve set up this system — the way we make automobiles; the way we make airplanes; the way people go back and forth every day — is a benefit to both of these economies. Take one of them out of it, the other will suffer.”
Trade between the U.S. and Canada amounted to $885 billion in goods and services in 2015.
Donohue predicted the U.S.-Canada relationship would be “tested” in the coming year as the Trump administration pushes hard for an advantage in trade talks.
“We’re in a new political environment and our bilateral ties are going to be tested. But I believe, with the engagement of the private sectors and the commitment of leaders on both sides, they can be strengthened.”
During Monday’s question period in the House of Commons, interim Conservative Party leader Rona Ambrose asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau how his Liberal government intended to hold its own against the new, more aggressive, administration in Washington.
“Three-quarters of everything we make and sell goes to the United States. The Prime Minister keeps saying that everything will be okay. But the truth is, millions of jobs are being targeted by the U.S. administration: Our farmers, our forestry workers and our steel manufacturers,” said Ambrose.
Trudeau repeated a talking point that he has been using in recent weeks: “Millions of American middle-class jobs depend on close trade relationships with Canada. Thirty-five different American states have Canada as their number one export destination. Our economies are integrated like no two countries in the world.”