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Chilly NAFTA climate may offset warmer Connections

14 Oct 17
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It’s a challenging irony for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that his Mexico moment arrived today. Two decades back, he had been campaigning on fixing strained relationships with Mexico and the USA, promising a payoff in exchange. When Mexican senators were standing applauding him on Friday, it was with a possible North American trade catastrophe looming in the background.

Mr. Trudeau was feted in his two weeks in Mexico, by President Enrique Pena Nieto, who rolled out red carpets and held a state dinner, then by the Senate with a military choir singing O Canada. In the Senate chamber, he struck well-received notes in a call for a progressive internationalism — instead of isolationism, a hint at Donald Trump. Mr. Trudeau announced Mexico a natural friend and partner for Canada.

It needs to be counted as a victory for the connection. In actuality, Mr. Trudeau’s entire week visiting Washington and Mexico City was a display of great connections, in the narrow sense. He courted members of Congress. He got along with Mr. Trump, who said Mr. Trudeau had become a friend. Mr. Trudeau had worked at it he’s spoken frequently to Mr. Trump in eight months than he did to President Barack Obama at 14, according to his aides.

However, the connections seem warm as trade discussions are turning poisonous.

While he collaborated with Mr. Trump at the Oval Office, U.S. negotiators were placing so-called poison pills on the NAFTA table: a sunset clause so the trade agreement would need to be renewed every five years; and a requirement that duty-free vehicles comprise 50-per-cent U.S. content.

The hard truth for Mr. Trudeau, who actually has put a lot into relationships with foreign leaders, is that warmer relationships may not be adequate. There will be tough strategic choices for Mr. Trudeau on NAFTA. One, may be deciding whether to ditch the Mexicans, and strain the connection again.

At the moment, Mr. Trudeau is precisely what the Mexicans ordered. Mr. Pena Nieto, whose approval ratings are feeble, was thrilled to be viewed with a Canadian PM who’s a contrast to Mr. Trump’s anti-Mexico rhetoric, and is regarded as a glamorous figure around the world. The first Mexican reporter to present a question in their joint press conference directed her question to Mr. Pena Nieto, but asked for a picture with Mr. Trudeau.

From the Senate on Friday, he was the friendly, innovative Canadian. He reminded them that he’d raised the despised Canadian visa requirements for Mexicans and seen that the flow of Mexican visitors to Canada increase. Senators stood to applaud when he spoke about working for the rights of girls and women around the world. He addressed climate change. He gently nudged Mexico to raise labor standards as he talked of the importance of ensuring that the benefits of trade are shared with all.

But NAFTA? He was short, and obscure, on the discussions stressing both Canada and Mexico. He spoke about being Mexico’s spouse in uncertain times. However, the night before, he dodged when asked if he had promised Mr. Pena Nieto that Canada would not drop trilateral talks to perform a bilateral deal with the United States.

Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Pena Nieto have choices to make about strategy.

The first, both suggested, is to stick with the discussions even when the United States makes non-negotiable proposals. That suggests that if anybody will walk away, it is going to be Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trudeau might expect that his personal connection can help him persuade the President to not trigger a withdrawal from NAFTA. But who knows? He might hope a few of the members of Congress he met this week, in an encounter with the House ways and means committee, could use their ability to block Mr. Trump from withdrawing. But nobody knows if they will.

And then there is a decision about tactical patience: Would Mr. Trudeau wait for those things to play out, risking a disturbance in Canada’s crucial trade with the United States, or would he decide, sooner or later, to deal alone with Mr. Trump?

This 2015 campaign promise about fixing relationships was partially about replacing a cold tone with a warmer one, and Mr. Trudeau indicated that moment with Mexico this week. However, it was supposed to bring a reward, also: The Liberal campaign platform promised it would help enhance North American trade. Now, with Mr. Trump at the White House, Mr. Trudeau is signaling a renewed relationship as the trade ties are in jeopardy.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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