Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Trudeau says there’s ‘no need for a Plan B’ in NAFTA talks

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to delegates at the XII Metropolis World Congress on Tuesday in Montreal.

Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS

With North American free-trade agreement renegotiation talks only months away, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he is "100 per cent" confident there will still be a deal in place in a year's time.

Speaking at a public event hosted by The New York Times in Toronto on Thursday, Mr. Trudeau emphasized that "there's no need for a Plan B" when it comes to negotiating the trade deal. That's despite dealing with a mercurial U.S. President, who threatened to tear up NAFTA as recently as March, before reportedly changing his mind following a phone call from Mr. Trudeau.

"NAFTA has been improved a dozen times over the years, and we will do it again to update it to what the challenges we're facing now are," Mr. Trudeau said.

Story continues below advertisement

The Prime Minister said that while he and President Donald Trump differ on many issues, the President is open to reasonable arguments.

"I highlighted the fact, fairly straightforward I thought, that in any trade deal, particularly one 25 years old, there has been certain momentum … and that to terminate it suddenly would be far more disruptive than renegotiating it, even if theoretically one could imagine a much better deal some time down the road," Mr. Trudeau said of his phone call with Mr. Trump. "There was an openness to that."

The sense of optimism about a successful NAFTA renegotiation is shared by David Jacobson, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Canada from 2009 to 2013 and is now the vice-chair of BMO Financial Group.

"Nobody can give you a guarantee, but I am confident it will work out because it is in the best interests of all of the parties involved that it work out," Mr. Jacobson told The Globe and Mail after speaking at the Institute of Corporate Directors's national conference in Toronto on Thursday.

He stressed, however, the timeline to secure a successful renegotiation is tight, particularly as Mexico heads into an election year in 2018.

"President [Enrique] Pena Nieto's party, who will be the ones who are negotiating [NAFTA], is not going to want to be perceived, as the election approaches, as making compromises with the Trump administration, because the other side will make much of it."

Revamping a major trade deal in five months – between the expected August start date and the end of the year –"would be a record," Mr. Jacobson said.

Story continues below advertisement

However, the fact it follows on the heels of the extensive Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, scuttled by the Trump administration earlier this year, could expedite the process, he added. Many of the issues that were hashed out in the TPP – electronic commerce, intellectual property rights, environmental protection – are likely to form the core of the NAFTA renegotiation.

"I would be surprised if when people sit down to negotiate, particularly when they're under some time pressure, if they aren't going to look back and say, 'well gee we spent three years doing this, let's at least take a look,'" Mr. Jacobson said. A number of the U.S. government bureaucrats who worked on the TPP deal will be on the NAFTA renegotiation team, even if the top political leadership has changed, he added.

Despite the confidence expressed about NAFTA, Mr. Trudeau did take a harder view of other pressure points between the two countries.

"We're not reopening and renegotiating Paris, that's simply not on the table," Mr. Trudeau said of the Paris climate accord, which the United States pulled out of earlier this month. He also took objection to the U.S. investigation into national security implications of the Canada-U.S. steel trade.

"I made this point directly to the President, that Canada has no business being on a list of possible national security concerns," Mr. Trudeau said.

Video: Canadian business should lead the trade debate with U.S.
Report an error Licensing Options
Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.