NAFTA – Everyone’s Chattering

By | June 29, 2017

There’s no end to the advice – well-intended on not – that Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and her team are getting from NAFTA experts and non-experts, far and wide.

Interest and engagement over NAFTA and other trade issues amongst Canadians these days thanks to Mr. Trump is probably unprecedented. But one has feel sympathy for ministers and senior officials in Ottawa trying to digest all of this unsolicited advice.

Let alone trying to make some sense of where NAFTA is going in advance of any request from the Trump White House to sit down at the table.

I’m as much at fault as anyone else in offering gratuitous views on strategy and tactics in this period of Never-Land, in advance the US triggering the start of re-negotiations under the Fast-Track system, supposedly set for August 18 or thereabouts.

We’ll see if that time-table holds. Remember, it takes Two-to-Tango (or three in the case of the NAFTA).

That means that even if the Trump team sends Canada and Mexico a request to start the talks, this isn’t a demand and a take-it-or-leave it proposition to arrive in Washington the next day with a negotiating team.

There will be inevitable to-ing and fro-ing before the negotiating framework and agenda can be settled. This will take time. Probably the actual business of negotiating won’t start in earnest until sometime later in the fall.

Whenever they do start, I’ve predicted that these will be tough and nasty, even with some soothing comments here and there from USTR Lighthizer and Commerce Secretary Ross.

That being said, the negotiating process will be fluid, with lots of horse-trading and the inevitable give-and-take. And much of this will, perforce, be behind closed doors. That’s how trade negotiations work.

It’s clear that the skilled and battle-hardened trade team in Ottawa is continuing to work up Canada’s own set of NAFTA demands and planned counter-thrusts. These are people that are probably the best and most experienced trade negotiators anywhere. Canadian interests will be fiercely defended.

For the rest of us, as engaged as we are, it would be wise to let matters unfold a bit. The Canadian government is doing a top-notch job of showing how important the NAFTA is to the United States. Let’s see what Trump & Co. put on the table to get a better sense of where all of this is going.