'The Americans don't have a clear idea' on NAFTA, says former ambassador
Published Thursday, October 5, 2017 7:31PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, October 5, 2017 7:49PM EDT
As high-level negotiations on the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement move ahead, Canada’s former ambassador to the United States has doubts that American deal-makers have a clear sense of what they want.
In his candidacy, U.S. President Donald Trump called NAFTA “the worst trade deal ever” and vowed to revise it or scrap it altogether.
But nearly three months into negotiations with Canada and Mexico, the U.S. has yet to announce its demands on critical parts of the deal, such as the dairy industry, poultry industry and the auto sector’s “rules of origin.”
Former U.S. ambassador and finance minister Michael Wilson said the lack of clarity has raised basic questions about whether the Americans have a uniform plan.
“They haven’t put much on the table. What that tells me is the Americans don’t have a clear idea, or agreement, on what they should do,” Wilson told CTV’s Power Play from Toronto on Thursday.
Trump has spoken out directly against certain aspects of the deal. In April, the president used his Twitter account to call out Canada’s dairy industry, which is regulated through the supply management system.
"Canada has made business for our dairy farmers in Wisconsin and other border states very difficult," Trump tweeted. "We will not stand for this. Watch!"
Wilson suggested that, on some files, Trump may be clashing with his advisors.
“I think some of the things that the president said (he’d) like to do … a lot of the experts are telling him that some of those things are just not doable, or the consequences of doing them are going to be damaging to the United States.”
Understanding Trump’s priorities and gauging how to respond has become a key priority for the federal government, which has assigned a team of high-level staffers to closely follow NAFTA negotiations.
Wilson said it seems that Trump is regularly re-adjusting his approach to Canada.
“He’s said from time to time that he likes Canada, that he’s not targeting Canada in the NAFTA negotiations. But at the same time, shortly after, he’ll say we’ve got to do this or we’ve got to do that to stop these difficult Canadians and Mexicans from taking advantage of us,” Wilson said.
Despite that mixed messaging, Wilson said he’s inclined to believe that American negotiators will make efforts to modernize the deal rather than toss it out.
“I don’t think that ripping it up is in the cards right now. I could be wrong, because who knows what’s going to happen.”
U.S. Congress will play an important role in responding to whatever decision the Trump administration makes on NAFTA. Wilson says that there are “a lot of people” in Congress who have a positive impression of the trilateral deal, “if not the whole treaty itself.”
NAFTA was signed in 1993, and Wilson said it’s time to write digital industries into the deal.
“There’s a lot of things that can be changed for the better,” he said, before cautioning that it’s still wholly unclear how the talks will conclude. “What will happen in the end? Who knows.”