Former prime minister Brian Mulroney believes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s positive relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump is Canada’s secret weapon when it comes to renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The former Conservative prime minister said he knows first-hand that Trump is pleased with his Canadian counterpart. He also expressed confidence that Canadian negotiators are on the right path to achieve a trilateral trade pact, in spite of the various dust-ups over key issues.

“I think that the relationship that Prime Minister Trudeau has developed with President Trump is a very good one, one of the best of industrialized leaders in the world,” Mulroney told CTV Power Play host Don Martin on Tuesday. “How do I know that? Because President Trump told me after some meetings with Prime Minister Trudeau. That is our ace-in-the-hole in many ways.”

Mulroney invoked a mix of nostalgia and numbers in his defence of NAFTA before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in Washington earlier on Tuesday.

He recalled a time during his tenure when Canadians worried they would have their “clock cleaned” if a trade agreement was struck with the United States and its comparatively massive economy.

“So what happened? Trade in goods and services between our two countries exploded 300 per cent. Millions of jobs were created in both countries, and the relationship grew to be the largest such bilateral agreement in any two nations in the history of the world,” he told the committee members.

“At one point a few years ago, there was more business going from Windsor, Ont. to Detroit, Mich., there was more business going across that one bridge, than America did with the nation of Japan.”

Mulroney elaborated on how the trade pact, which grew to include Mexico in 1994, not only enriched the three nations, but is globally envied for its role in cementing peace, prosperity and cooperation on the North American continent.

His comments follow the latest round of NAFTA negotiations in Montreal last week. The talks indicated modest signs of progress and constructive dialogue, but the way forward is still far from clear.

A number of factors loom in the background, including Canada’s World Trade Organization challenge against Washington, Canada’s signature on the new Trans-Pacific Partnership, and Trump’s persistent threats to pull the United States out of the deal.

Taking aim at Trump’s assertion that NAFTA has been “very, very bad” for U.S. economic interests, Mulroney highlighted the plunging unemployment south of the border.

The U.S. unemployment rate remained at 4.1 per cent for a third straight month in December, the lowest level since 2000, according to U.S. Bureau of Labour statistics.

“With an unemployment rate of 4.1 per cent, the lowest of any nation in the industrialized world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to seriously argue that the U.S. has done poorly with its international trade agreements,” Mulroney said.

He went on to describe North America as “the largest, richest, most dynamic free trade area in the world.”

“With less than seven per cent of the world’s population, the NAFTA partners last year represented 28 per cent of the total wealth in the world,” Mulroney said.

He fondly quoted former British prime minister Winston Churchill’s one-time description of Canada-U.S. ties, saying, “That long frontier from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean guarded only by neighbourly respect and honourable obligations. It is an example to every country, and a pattern for the future of the world.”

Mulroney also referenced former U.S. president Ronald Reagan’s phrase, “protectionism is destructionism.”

He applauded former U.S. presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton for their part in shepherding the NAFTA deal since its inception.

“They understood that such trade agreements are a vital constituent part of an enlightened foreign policy, not isolated variables to be picked apart on a profit and loss basis,” Mulroney said. “Such agreements succeed only when all parties benefit. Who can deny that that is the case here?”