Canada’s top diplomat in Washington will offer premiers meeting in Edmonton today some strategic advice on dealing with President Donald Trump’s administration after the U.S. unveiled its wish list for a historic overhaul of NAFTA.
Ambassador to the U.S. David MacNaughton, who’s on the front lines to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, will help provincial and territorial leaders unpack an 18-page document released yesterday by the Republican administration. The document outlines key objectives in renegotiating the 23-year-old trade pact.
Premiers have been part of Canada’s broad outreach strategy, meeting with state governors and Congressional leaders in an effort to make their interests clear to those in a position to influence the talks.
Ahead of the three-day Council of the Federation meeting, which opened Monday, some premiers had stressed the need to take a unified approach in demanding input as the federal government opens talks with the U.S. next month.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley conceded the group could do a better collective job of co-ordinating and communicating what’s at stake for jobs and economies on both sides of the border. But based on what she has seen to date, Notley said she is confident Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government won’t shut the premiers out of the process.
“It’s already been signalled to us by the federal government that they will be reaching out in a systematic way to both our officials as well as our political officials as we move forward on the negotiating trail,” Notley said Monday. “I expect that we will be quite well co-ordinated and there will be an appropriate format for all provinces to engage on behalf of their citizens.”
With nine million jobs in the U.S. directly linked to trade with Canada, which is the largest export customer for 30 states, New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant said he feels “relatively confident” Canada is on solid footing heading into the NAFTA talks.
“I believe once we make that point once again, it’s going to make our positioning on the negotiations that much stronger,” he said.
Strong bargaining position
Gerry Baier, political scientist at the University of British Columbia, said it is beneficial for the premiers to take a united front.
But he warned the cohesion could weaken if each province ultimately looks to protect its own sectors and industries when it comes to concessions to get a deal.
“There is a potential for divide and conquer,” he said.
As for what’s at stake politically for Trudeau, Baier said the prime minister will likely be able to deflect any criticism by pointing the finger at Trump.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer released his negotiating objectives Monday.
The 18-page summary sketches out how the U.S. hopes to eliminate NAFTA’s Chapter 19 dispute resolution panels, which Canada uses to appeal duties on softwood lumber and other goods, and is expected to be a thorny issue when talks begin as early as Aug. 17.
After discussing NAFTA, softwood lumber and other Canada-U.S. trade issues, the premiers will take on domestic economic and other issues Tuesday.
Legalizing pot talks
On Wednesday, talks turn to justice concerns. Premiers will take stock of the fallout from the Supreme Court of Canada’s controversial Jordan decision, which imposed hard targets for criminal trials, and left provinces and territories scrambling for ways to ease delays in their court systems.
The federal government’s plan to pass a law legalizing marijuana by July 2018 will also be on the agenda, as premiers share ideas on age of access, where to sell and distribute cannabis, and how to ensure public and road safety.