Canada's Plan to Keep NAFTA Alive and Kicking

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 8/24/2017 02:54:00 PM
The Yanqui villain is on the left. The Canadian [C] and Mexican [R] protagonists seek to defuse his worst tendencies.
The commencement of the NAFTA renegotiation has been, if nothing else, an opportunity for the Trump administration to engage in grandstanding about how the protectionist president is fed up with Canada and Mexico not competing on a level playing field. Aside from running trade surpluses with the United States (which reveals the extent America is being "taken advantage" of), both stand accused of stealing American jobs (i.e., whenever US multinationals hire workers anywhere except the US). Hence US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer's tale of woe at the beginning of negotiations:
We cannot ignore the huge trade deficits, the lost manufacturing jobs, the businesses that have closed or moved because of incentives -- intended or not -- in the current agreement.

The numbers are clear. The U.S. Government has certified that at least 700,000 Americans have lost their jobs due to changing trade flows resulting from NAFTA. Many people believe that number is much, much bigger than that. In 1993, when NAFTA was approved, the United States and Mexico experienced relatively balanced trade. However since then, we have had persistent trade deficits – in the last year totaling nearly $57 billion. In the auto sector alone, the U.S. has a $68 billion deficit with Mexico.  Thousands of American factory workers have lost their jobs because of these provisions. In recent years, we have seen some improvement in our trade balance with Canada.  But over the last ten years, our deficit in goods has exceeded $365 billion.
[Sniff] the vile things these foreigners are doing! To no one's real surprise, though, it appears that the US grandstanders do not really have a game plan:
In this case, however, the entire NAFTA renegotiation process is happening only because Donald Trump campaigned on doing it and insisted on formally triggering the treaty’s renegotiation provision back in mid-May. But with the [Trump] administration in a state of semi-permanent chaos, top officials not focused on the issue, and the White House’s leading trade protectionist unceremoniously fired [Steve Bannon], Trump does not appear to be well-positioned to secure any kind of meaningful concessions from Canada.
The Canadians, on the other hand, are not fooling around since their mission is rather more serious than catering to the ego of an economic populist and his minions. They do have a game plan to preserve the benefits which have come through this agreement. In stark contrast to US ineptitude, they've designated a veteran team to respond rapidly to the mental disturbances of Trump and company. One of the ways to accomplish Canadian objectives is to appeal to Americans who have a stake in maintaining the current deal:
According to Alexander Panetta of the Canadian Press, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “has created an election-style nerve center to handle White House-related challenges” during the NAFTA renegotiation process. The team features eight staffers, including “two former trade officials, two senior PMO officials, an ambassador, a writer, a cabinet minister.”

The goal is to be able to push back on both a strategic and tactical level to presidential negotiating ploys, including social media threats to pull out of NAFTA altogether in order to gain leverage. One of the goals of the team in the prime minister’s office is to coordinate follow-up, if necessary, with the broad and deep range of American stakeholders beyond Trump whom Trudeau has spent months cultivating.

As Max Fisher reported in June, “Canadian officials have fanned out across the United States, meeting with mayors, governors, members of Congress and business leaders on matters from trade to the environment.” At meetings with local officials, Canadian ministers “travel armed with data on the precise dollar amount and number of jobs supported by Canadian firms and trade in that area,” cultivating current and potential allies to push back against Trump’s demands. 

Canada also has a clear list of negotiating objectives, including both key NAFTA provisions that Trudeau’s government is committed to keeping and aspirations to win more access for Canadian companies to state and local government contracts and more access for Canadian professionals like computer programmers to jobs in the United States. The US negotiating posture, by contrast, heavily emphasizes a couple of demands that appear to be symbolic, meaningless, or unworkable.
Actually, the barbs from Trump have already begun as negotiations are underway. Trump told a Phoenix, Arizona rally that the US will probably withdraw from NAFTA. However, Canadians and Mexicans are taking him less seriously by the day, as they should. Remember, the US president does not have sole discretion whether to withdraw from a trade deal like NAFTA. Instead, congress does. As long as the Canadians strategically appeal to American benefiting from the arrangement--and congresspersons who represent them--it does not make sense to count NAFTA out.

The weight of evidence suggests the Canadians understand their predicament and how to get a favorable result by appealing to US constituencies who've benefited from regional trade. Alas, the same cannot be said for Trump and company.The good guys here, the Canadians, stand a good chance of winning since they are much better prepared.