Canada’s Trudeau: To Save NAFTA, Avoid Trump

TrumpTrudeau Canada's Trudeau: To Save NAFTA, Avoid Trump
Trudeau’s ploy to save NAFTA consists of going around Trump.

If there ever was a misleadingly titled article, consider this one from Bloomberg on Canadian PM Justin Trudeau seeing a “clear path forward” on NAFTA. You see, the path he’s taken is to largely bypass the Americans actually responsible for (re)negotiating trade deals, namely Trump and his trade representative Robert Lighthizer. Instead, Trudeau has taken his case directly to [a] representatives whose constituents will lose out from NAFTA’s demise and [b] companies presumably with strong lobbying arms who would also be negatively affected:

Trudeau’s government has been attempting to win support from U.S. lawmakers and businesses to keep Trump from pulling out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, as he’s repeatedly threatened to do. Canadian efforts also come amid signs U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is growing more frustrated with the country.

“There is a clear path forward and we’re working very hard together on that path,” Trudeau said Saturday in Los Angeles. He spoke alongside Mayor Eric Garcetti, one of many prominent Democrats he met with. Canada wants to “ensure that we can move forward in a way that is a win-win for all of us.”

Garcetti hailed Canadian investment in his city and said Trudeau’s trip was well-received. “This is deeply important work the prime minister is doing.”

Canada’s NAFTA game plan was already spelled out sometime ago. If anything, this is not a “clear path forward” for a number of reasons. First, as I’ve mentioned, Trudeau’s path appears more circuitous than direct through bypassing the formal counterparties to the NAFTA re(negotiations)–Trump, Lighthizer, and others in the executive branch. So, he’s trying to raise support in a roundabout manner even if you can argue that Trudeau is actually appealing to those with a greater stake here–namely, NAFTA-participating regions and companies.

Second, despite me and many other trade commentators believing that only the US Congress can undo NAFTA having put in into effect, there is no guarantee that [i] Trump will not try to get out of the deal single-handedly if talks do not yield progress and [ii] Congress can successfully overrule Trump if he does announce the US is leaving NAFTA.

Trudeau acknowledges as much. From his Grand Tour of America:

At the University of Chicago on Feb. 7, Trudeau said he was “legitimately concerned about the future of Nafta…” Friday in Los Angeles, Trudeau warned he didn’t “think anyone can now entirely predict or understand” the impacts on the three countries if Nafta were to end.

To be fair, Trudeau’s administration has just filed an unprecedented Pretty Much Everyone Else vs. USA case at the WTO that has soured trade relations between the two countries. For WTO cases, you typically argue for your own trade interests, not for everyone’s against some big, bad country. If Trump’s trade negotiators like inserting “poison pills” during ongoing NAFTA talks, then Canada’s shoving some pretty unsavory stuff down US throats, too, at the WTO.

Ultimately, I don’t think Trudeau buys that the path forward is clear, either.

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