U.S. President Donald Trump is, once again, blaming Canada for delays in concluding North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiations. There’s nothing new in this but this time Trump is bringing in high-powered congressional guns to lambaste Canada.
Trump loyalist and Republican Congressman Steve Scalise lowered the rhetorical boom: “Mexico negotiated in good faith and in a timely manner, and if Canada does not co-operate in the negotiations, Congress will have no choice but to consider options about how best to move forward and stand up for American workers.”
Interesting choice of words, “co-operate.” It seems to have a very particular definition to Trump loyalists. Translation: concede to our terms or we’ll cancel Canadian participation in the trade pact.
Why now? What’s the hurry?
From the moment Trump was elected president in 2016, he has had one overriding objective: his survival. And that means maintaining Republican majorities in both the House of Representatives and Senate after the 2018 midterm elections.
Truth is, Trump’s authority and probably his political survival depend upon Republican victories in November.
Apart from opening the impeachment floodgates – Trump’s worst nightmare – a big Democrat win in the midterms would unravel Republican plans to institutionalize a conservative Supreme Court and social agenda for decades to come.
So it’s no surprise that Trump is attacking Canada now, looking for across-the-board concessions. Trump needs to deliver on at least one of his big election promises or face the wrath of the electorate.
There’s been no progress on the border wall (nor any sign that Mexico is lining up to pay for it) and no rush of investment into new manufacturing jobs in Middle America. Trump has not delivered anything like the return to the “great” America that he promised during the election campaign.
Trump has, of course, taken the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord and walked away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. And he has slashed taxes for multinational companies and the richest Americans considerably. So he needs a big win and he needs it quickly.
There are three main lines the Canadian government Liberals have maintained they won’t cross when it comes to NAFTA.
Canadian negotiators want to maintain an independent dispute settlement mechanism (rather than being forced to rely on U.S. courts). And they’ve made it plain that attempts to dismantle Canada’s supply management systems and cultural industry protections are deal breakers.
Of course, there’s a bit of Canadian wriggle room on some or all of these issues. But Trump doesn’t want a negotiated settlement, he needs what every bully needs – total Canadian surrender.
An across-the-board collapse by Canada would be proof that NAFTA was always unfair to the U.S. and that Trump’s bully tactics are the best way to “Make American Great Again.”
It would also be translated instantly into powerful elector propaganda for the president and House Republicans in the run-up to the midterm elections.
Consequently, Canadian tactics are to negotiate sensibly. These are, after all, detailed trade negotiations and Canada is in no hurry. Time could be on Canada’s side if things go according to the Democrat plan in November.
Trump needs a clear 30-day run for the Republican electoral strategy, so expect the next few days to unleash an avalanche of abusive tweets aimed at Canada as the first week in October looms.
Even if the worst happens and Trump simply cancels NAFTA in a huff, which he’s very likely to do, it’s not the end of U.S.-Canada trade, nor is it the worst thing for Canada.
What the president really wants is the surrender of Canadian sovereignty. While promising free trade and continental integration, secretly the U.S. position on Canada has always been to gain unencumbered access to our resources and create a semi-colonial dependency that they can exploit to their advantage.
The only sensible position for Canada to take in any free-trade agreement must be based on advancing the common interest between independent sovereign states, with all that that implies in terms of managing our own cultural, energy and food security needs.
Let’s be reasonable and let common sense govern our terms. But under no circumstances should we consider forfeiting our national integrity or sacrificing the basic right to govern ourselves to rampaging bulls.
The most pragmatic stance seems to be to let the dust settle in November after the midterm elections and then we’ll see what’s best for Canada.
Robert McGarvey is an economic historian and former managing director of Merlin Consulting, a London, U.K.-based consulting firm. Robert’s most recent book is Futuromics: A Guide to Thriving in Capitalism’s Third Wave.