Trump Warms to North America Trade ‘Fortress,’ Canada Envoy Says

  • Canada’s U.S. ambassador David MacNaughton gives upbeat view
  • Doesn’t see ‘significant’ disruptions in U.S.-Canada ties

Trudeau Says Trump Listens and Open to Changing His Mind

Canada’s ambassador to Washington is striking an upbeat tone on looming trade talks with President Donald Trump’s administration, saying the U.S. is now warming to cooperating with Mexico and Canada on trade.

In a pair of Ottawa appearances this week, David MacNaughton said while challenges lie ahead, Canadian ties with the White House are as close as they were under Barack Obama’s administration and Canada will “end up coming out of all this better than we are now.”

The tone in Washington is beginning to change, he said, with anti-globalization talk subsiding and key Trump cabinet figures starting to echo an argument advanced by David Petraeus and Robert Zoellick for expanded North American cooperation.

“One of the things I’ve heard more and more in the last several months is what I’d call the ‘Fortress North America’ view, which is that North America can become the most competitive economic jurisdiction in the world,” MacNaughton told Canadian lawmakers Wednesday, before repeating it the next day.

“I can’t point to anything specific, it’s just that in all of our conversations in the last few weeks, increasingly we’re talking about making North America more competitive on a global basis," he told reporters Thursday. "And I find that really quite encouraging.”

Nafta Talks

MacNaughton’s comments this week -- collectively in testimony to a Senate committee Wednesday, during a speech to a business audience Thursday, and to reporters after the speech -- come as the U.S., Canada and Mexico prepare for Nafta trade talks that could begin as soon as August and as Trump announced his pick for the new U.S. ambassador to Canada. “I don’t believe for a moment that we will end up with significant disruptions of the U.S.-Canadian relationship," MacNaughton told the business audience.

MacNaughton warned that a widespread renegotiation of the pact would take more time and that there will no doubt be challenges in U.S.-Canada ties -- including over steel, aluminum, lumber and climate change.

Canada is ready for a comprehensive renegotiation if that’s what the U.S. is seeking, he said, though there are concerns talks could drag into 2018 and get bogged down by Mexico’s presidential election cycle and U.S. midterm elections. “If they want to get it done before the end of the year, we’re not going to be able to talk about everything but the kitchen sink,” MacNaughton said Thursday.

The Canadian ambassador has spearheaded a widespread lobbying campaign aimed at the Trump administration, the U.S. Congress and American governors and business leaders to build support for trade.

“In speaking with members of Congress and American business leaders, I find a deep reservoir of support for Nafta and for the trade relationship with Canada,” he told lawmakers Wednesday. “The key message I hear across every sector of the U.S. economy is that a modernized Nafta must reduce trade barriers between our three countries and enhance the ability of North America to compete in the rest of the world. Put simply, American business is telling their government that the cardinal rule for Nafta renegotiation is do no harm.”

Tillerson, Ross

Facing that push from American industry, key cabinet figures including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross are warming to Canada

“I think increasingly -- whether it be Secretary Mattis, Secretary Kelly, Tillerson, Wilbur Ross, others -- they’re coming to realize more and more that cooperation with Canada is in their best interest, their best strategic interest and best economic interest,” MacNaughton told lawmakers Wednesday.

Canada will seek freer movement of both goods and people in Nafta talks and borrow from the labor and environment provisions adopted in its trade pact with the European Union, MacNaughton said. Nafta also needs to be updated to reflect the digital economy, he said.

“We need to find a way to create North America as the most competitive economy, economic unit, in the world because our competition isn’t across the border -- it’s around the globe,” he said Wednesday.

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