Canada, Mexico talk the talk about free trade

Canada and Mexico reached out to each other while preparing messages to engage President-elect Donald Trump in discussing amendments to the North America Free Trade Agreement

WASHINGTON — Canada and Mexico reached out to each other while preparing similar public messages last week about being willing to engage U.S. president-elect Donald Trump in discussing amendments to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Sources say the two governments spoke by phone before Canada made its sudden announcement about NAFTA the day after the U.S. election — comments later followed by a similar statement from Mexico.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto also spoke later in the week, after representatives of their respective governments kept each other abreast of their intentions.

“I had a nice conversation a number of days ago with President Pena Nieto,” Trudeau confirmed during a news conference Wednesday. “Our citizens expect us to work constructively together to advance our interests and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

The day after Trump’s election stunner, the Canadian government said it was ready to talk trade. U.S. ambassador David MacNaughton said every agreement can be improved, so Canada is ready to come to the table with ideas. He even suggested a possible change: adding softwood lumber to the agreement, so that the countries don’t continue re-litigating the issue every few years.

Softwood is on the list of things Trump might want adjusted in NAFTA, according to a purported transition memo obtained by CNN.

Other issues on the list include currency manipulation, country-of-origin labelling and environmental and safety standards, the memo reportedly says. It also says that on Day 1 of his presidency, according to CNN, Trump will inform Canada and Mexico of his intention to change NAFTA or have it cancelled.

The day after Canada’s announcement, Mexico’s foreign minister said her government was also ready to sit down and discuss NAFTA, its merits, and possible ways to modernize it, without renegotiating it entirely.

The snap announcement caught some off-guard. Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose suggested that with a self-styled killer negotiator as commander-in-chief, Canada had weakened its leverage by rushing to the table.

“Wow. That is some tough negotiating,” Ambrose said sarcastically Wednesday, speaking to the Tory caucus.

She alluded to Trump’s reputation for taking a merciless, no-holds-barred approach to business deals.

“When it came to defending NAFTA, the most important trade agreement in Canada’s history, before even being asked, Prime Minister Trudeau offered to open up and renegotiate NAFTA.”

But Canadian officials — speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation — said the move was carefully considered.

First, it removes some of the drama from an early conversation. One official pointed out that NAFTA has been adjusted multiple times over the years with little suspense, tension, or even any public attention.

Canada has been hoping for years to modernize NAFTA’s visa rules — considered out-of-date and cumbersome by companies that operate in both countries. NAFTA allows easy access to visas for a list of professions, but that list is more than two decades old and barely references jobs related to the digital economy.

“The idea that we would say, ‘No, we’re not going to talk’ is unrealistic,” one official said. “We’re always looking to improve agreements… (We’re always asking): ‘How do you make trade work for regular people?”’

He said Canada wanted to avoid an unnecessary first fight — why antagonize, he said, the most important foreign partner without even sitting down to consider improvements that might benefit workers?

All three panellists at a recent Canada-U.S. event at Johns Hopkins University said it was wise to get out early.

“The right thing to do is exactly what the prime minister has done — that is to initiate discussion, to engage, right at the beginning,” said Charles Doran, director of Canadian studies at the school.

“It’s very important for Canada to get started with that conversation early. I think that was very smart.”

Dan Restrepo, a former adviser to President Barack Obama, said it’s important for Canada to maintain productive ties with the next president, even if it doesn’t yet know what Trump wants.

“I think both governments have been wise in saying that they are open to (talking NAFTA),” said Restrepo, the former principal adviser to Obama for Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean. “I think there is value in sitting down and even seeing what that conversation looks like.”

He offered Canada three pieces of advice in dealing with Trump: “Engaging, engaging, engaging.”

Canada can exercise more international clout if it works constructively with Trump, added Christopher Sands of the university’s Center for Canadian Studies.

“Every negotiator knows the good-cop, bad-cop strategy,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of room for Canada to play that role — carefully.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Erika Fetterly, owner of EFP Studios, recently launched the Let Them Have A Voice campaign. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta photographer’s campaign aims to give youths a voice

An Innisfail photographer is giving a platform to young central Albertans so… Continue reading

Chopped Canada-winning chef Pete Sok is trying to focus on the future as he reopens Boulevard Restaurant and Lounge in the Holiday Inn on Gasoline Alley during the pandemic. (Contributed photo)
Red Deer’s celebrity chef looks past the pandemic with new restaurant opportunity

Pete Sok is reopening Boulevard Restaurant — and betting on the future

The Red Deer Rebels hosted the Medicine Hat Tigers in the first game of the shortened 2020-21 season on Friday. The two teams faced off again in Medicine Hat Saturday (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Red Deer Rebels fall to Medicine Hat Tigers on Saturday

Tigers 7 Rebels 2 The Red Deer Rebels have lost two straight… Continue reading

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer reports 25th COVID-19 death

415 new cases identified provincially Saturday

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped save a missing pet recently. The two dogs have more than 80,000 followers on Twitter. (Contributed photo)
WATCH: Red Deer science dogs help save lost pet

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped rescue a missing pet… Continue reading

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Premier slams vandalism after slur painted on MLA’s office window

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is condemning alleged vandalism at the… Continue reading

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Machin waits to appear at the Standing Committee on Finance on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. Executives who engage in so-called "vaccine tourism" show both an ethical disregard for those less fortunate and a surprising lack of business acumen, experts argue. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine tourism is both unethical and bad for business, experts say

Executives who engage in so-called “vaccine tourism” show both an ethical disregard… Continue reading

Edmonton Oilers' Jesse Puljujarvi (13) and Toronto Maple Leafs' Justin Holl (3) battle in front as goalie Jack Campbell (36) makes the save during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, February 27, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
No Matthews, no problem: Minus NHL goal leader, Maple Leafs blank Oilers 4-0

Leafs 4 Oilers 0 EDMONTON — The Maple Leafs knew even with… Continue reading

Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Pablo Rodriguez rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Gummed-up bills in House of Commons: harbinger of a federal election?

OTTAWA — All federal party leaders maintain they don’t want an election… Continue reading

The Pornhub website is shown on a computer screen in Toronto on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Pornhub policies reveal legal gaps and lack of enforcement around exploitive videos

OTTAWA — Serena Fleites was in seventh grade when a sexually explicit… Continue reading

Sean Hoskin stands on a neighbourhood street in Halifax on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Hoskin was diagnosed with COVID-19 almost a year ago with symptoms that still persist. Some provinces have established programs to deal with long-term sufferers but Atlantic Canada, with relatively low numbers of patients, has yet to provide a resource to assist them. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
On East Coast, exhausted COVID-19 ‘long haulers’ hope specialized clinics will emerge

HALIFAX — On evenings when Sean Hoskin collapses into bed, heart pounding… Continue reading

Ottawa Senators goaltender Matt Murray (30) stands in his crease as Calgary Flames left wing Andrew Mangiapane (88), left to right, defenceman Rasmus Andersson (4), Matthew Tkachuk (19), Mikael Backlund (11) and Mark Giordano (5) celebrate a goal during second period NHL action in Ottawa on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Calgary Flames beat Ottawa 6-3 to end Senators’ three-game win streak

Flames 6 Senators 3 OTTAWA — The Calgary Flames used a balanced… Continue reading

Crosses are displayed in memory of the elderly who died from COVID-19 at the Camilla Care Community facility during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on November 19, 2020. The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection is likely to be much higher than recorded because of death certificates don't always list the virus as the cause of a fatality, experts say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Death certificates don’t accurately reflect the toll of the pandemic, experts say

The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection… Continue reading

Most Read