Canadians Expect Nafta to Withstand Trump's Tweaks

  • Ambassador says Trump tweaks won’t radically alter trade deal
  • Trudeau government identifies changes it would like to see

Canada’s government is confident that President Donald Trump’s intent to “tweak” the North American Free Trade Agreement won’t result in any major negative changes, the country’s envoy to Washington said.

Ambassador David MacNaughton spoke to reporters Wednesday, two days after joining Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in meetings with Trump at the White House on Monday. While it’s still unclear what Trump will do on trade, the diplomat said Canada is “cautiously optimistic.”

“Tweaking is not a fundamental change,” MacNaughton said in Toronto. “You never know in these things, but I’m quite optimistic that it’s going to be good for us.”

Trump pledged publicly to only “tweak” Canada’s side of the two-decade old trade deal and ease the flow of goods along the northern border, while saying he’d focus instead on the “unfair” U.S. commercial relationship with Mexico to the south.

Canada has identified “half a dozen things within Nafta” that it would like to see changed, MacNaughton said, without specifying. Conversations with the U.S. have so far been “good,” he added, while cautioning that there won’t be total certainty for businesses until Trump’s full cabinet is in place.

“It’s a bit of shadow boxing right now, we don’t know exactly what they want to do or where they’re going to go,” MacNaughton said. “One of the things we talked to the White House about over the past month and a half was that we needed to be in a position to establish confidence in the business community in Canada and the United States that things won’t change dramatically.”

The country’s confidence stems in part from its belief that any major changes that hurt Canada would also hurt the U.S. The two countries’ steel industries, for instance, have closely integrated supply chains. “To disrupt all of that would be very bad not just for us, but for the Americans,” he said.

Canada hadn’t done enough to keep the U.S. informed about the benefits of their trade relationship, MacNaughton said. However, that is changing with a widespread lobbying campaign in Washington involving federal politicians from different parties, as well as provinces and cities.

“I think we’ve fallen down a bit on the job in terms of convincing them about how their prosperity and our prosperity are so linked,” he said. “I have never seen in my numerous years being in and around public policy the degree of cooperation and sense of purpose we have in Canada at the moment.”

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