The next few days will no doubt be tense as the clock runs down in efforts to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
After a year of talks, U.S. President Donald Trump says he will send the trade deal his country negotiated with Mexico to Congress for approval — likely on Monday — with or without Canada signing on to create a new NAFTA.
It's not the only threat he's making.
Trump is also threatening to maintain the right to impose tariffs on Canadian goods, such as cars and trucks, whenever he sees fit by claiming a national security issue.
As well, he is threatening to keep the tariffs already in place on softwood lumber, steel and aluminum — which have hit hard-working families and their communities across Canada.
On top of that, he is threatening to leave Canada behind if this country's federal trade negotiators do not capitulate to his demands for concessions.
I have said that no deal is better than a bad deal.
Canada cannot be held hostage to such threats. From the beginning of these talks, I have said that no deal is better than a bad deal. Our prime minister has said the same thing.
To be clear, the deal Trump would have us sign is bad for Canada, despite some encouraging aspects to the Mexico deal.
Its provisions to lift the wages of autoworkers in Mexico, stricter content rules for vehicles produced in North America, and Mexican commitments to dismantle corrupt labour contracts and promote free collective bargaining, appear to be strong steps in the right direction, for instance. If these provision work as intended, they would directly address the major issues that have seen good jobs in that industry leave Canada.
Trump, however, is stubbornly insisting that Canada agree to concessions, such as cutting our supply management system for dairy and poultry products. He also wants patent rules that will drive up the price of medications in Canada. As well, he wants to gut the exemptions for cultural industries in Canada, and to reserve the right to impose tariffs whenever he sees fit. He would also like to see online cross-border purchases under $100 be made tax-free, which would give American online retailers an advantage over Canadian.
None of this makes any sense to me.
Take supply management, which helps ensure that dairy and poultry farmers can get their money from the market, instead of relying on government subsidies. It's a good system that supplies safe food and milk at a good price. I can see no reason to change that.
What is the point of a trade deal if one country maintains the right to impose tariffs after the deal is signed?
On culture, we define ourselves as a nation by the stories we tell one another about ourselves through the news media, movies and TV shows. We would lose that if we allow our cultural industries to become branch plants of American entertainment and media giants. We cannot surrender our cultural identity to get a deal.
Besides all that, what is the point of a trade deal if one country maintains the right to impose tariffs after the deal is signed? That really makes no sense to me.
As far as I'm concerned, Trump sabotaged his own negotiating team by claiming the right to slap tariffs on Canada under the guise of national security, deal or no deal. You cannot negotiate in good faith with someone who states publicly that they will continue to do whatever they want, no matter what the deal itself says. That undermines the entire effort by everyone involved.
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I don't think Trump understands how intertwined our two economies are, and how destructive tariffs will be on Americans themselves. I don't think Trump cares that, on steel, aluminum and auto trade, Canada faces similar crises: chronic job losses and plant closures. It's unfortunate that Trump sees little value in collaborative problem-solving, only combative rhetoric.
Despite all this, we can expect the pressure to build on Canadian negotiators in the coming days to capitulate to the Americans, just to get a deal. The commitment that no deal is better than a bad deal will surely be tested.
We must stand strong through this weekend and beyond. These talks are a once-in-a-generation chance to fix a deal that the labour movement rightly warned at the time would hurt working Canadians.
We have lived with a bad NAFTA deal for a quarter century. It makes no sense to me to repeat that with a new NAFTA.
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