Trump Should Play Nice in Nafta Talks, U.S. Chamber Chief Says

  • Donohue applauds moves to greenlight Keystone, curb regulation
  • Canada’s trade surplus with the U.S. is dwarfed by Mexico’s

President Donald Trump should renegotiate Nafta in a way that builds upon -- rather than hinders -- the movement of goods and people between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said.

Tom Donohue told a business audience Monday in Ottawa the new administration has already taken positive steps, such as pledging to curb regulation and advancing TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Throwing up roadblocks to trade within the North American Free Trade Agreement would raise costs and threaten U.S. jobs, Donohue said.

“We would insist on doing it in a way that doesn’t disrupt the $1.3 trillion of trade that depends on Nafta” each year, Donohue said. “It’s our job to ensure that our leaders understand and appreciate how much of our prosperity is linked to this relationship.”

Donohue’s remarks, made before a scheduled meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, suggest Canada has some support from within the U.S. business community for the idea that the disadvantages of renegotiating Nafta may outweigh the benefits.

Trump administration officials have already said Canada, which ships about three quarters of its exports to its southern neighbor, has less to worry about than Mexico because its trade flows are more balanced. The U.S. reported a trade deficit of $9.1 billion with Canada last year through November, compared with a $58.8 billion shortfall with Mexico.

Nafta still needs improvement because it’s more than two decades old, and the U.S. should be concerned that outdated visa rules for skilled workers may hurt competitiveness, Donohue said. “We risk shutting out high skilled talent needed to innovate and grow our economies.”

While some of Trump’s orders so far may be “a bit controversial,” they were well telegraphed and part of the work of a new administration, Donohue said in the speech. “President Trump has acted quickly to put his stamp on the direction of national policy,” he said. “These are all actions he said over and over again that he would take.”

The U.S. business leader was introduced by his Canadian counterpart, Perrin Beatty of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, who also stressed the deep bilateral trade ties. “When some disruption comes along it forces us to recognize how much our nations depend on each other,” he said. “It’s crucial that we keep our lines of communications open and buzzing.”

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