Experts Say Trudeau’s Optimism On NAFTA May Be Misplaced

REUTERS/Carlos Barria

David Krayden Ottawa Bureau Chief
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Despite Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s assurances that Canada will be virtually untouched by the renegotiation of NAFTA, President Donald Trump’s administration is indicating that it might be a rougher ride than anticipated by Trudeau, who has created a special advisory panel inside his cabinet to monitor the new adminstration’s trade signals.

Trump did not exclude Canada in Friday’s executive order that aims to initiate a formal assessment of how 16 countries could be abusing their trade relationship with the U.S. Trump’s acting trade representative has been emphatically clear about anticipated changes to the U.S. trade relationship with Canada.

When Trudeau was last in Washington last month for a Broadway play that he attended with Ivanka Trump, he told the media that the president had assured him that NAFTA only required some “tweaking” as far as Canada was concerned.

But there are suggestions that this might not be the case.

“It’s certainly more than tweaking,” Dan Ujczo, an Ohio-based trade lawyer specializing in Canada-U.S. matters, told the Toronto Star. “I think we’re getting a clear vision from the administration that they have a broad initiative that they want to take that will be much more than a quick fix under NAFTA.”

Christopher Sands, the director of the Center for Canadian Studies at Johns Hopkins University, agreed. “Certainly, for those people who were thinking, ‘Oh, it’s going to be minor tweaks, I can count on this basically passing me over,’ there’s some cause for alarm that Canada will be under some pressure to give up big things,” he said.

“And it’s not just going to be a negotiation about kicking Mexico out of certain aspects of the American economy, it’ll be much more contentious.”

Some of Trump’s critics say there is a disconnect between the president’s words and the actions of his cabinet.

“Trump has a habit of telling people what he thinks they want to hear face-to-face, so I don’t put much stock in anything he said to Trudeau,” said Judah Ariel, a trade lawyer in Washington.

“Trump also doesn’t get involved in policy specifics, so it’s not clear that he’d even know what Canada, or Mexico, would consider tweaks, as opposed to non-starter demands.”

But Trump has a defender in an unlikely source: Mickey Kantor, who was secretary of commerce under former president Bill Clinton. Kantor called the executive order not “radical or outrageous” but “within the realm of where most of us have been for years.”

Friday’s executive order included Canada with Mexico and China, whom Trump usually blames for most of America’s trade imbalances. The order seeks to discover which trading partners are creating “unequal burdens, or unfairly discriminating in fact against, the commerce of the United States.”

Trudeau remains optimistic. “They regularly assess what their partners are doing and what goes on in the trade relationship. That is something that we are certainly happy with,” he said.

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