BY WAYNE EASTER
Canada – U.S. relations, especially as it relates to trade issues, are uppermost on our political and business agenda as we approach the new year.
This week, the Canada-U.S. Inter-Parliamentary Group’s Canadian Section is in Washington to meet our Senate and Congressional counterparts - mainly focusing on NAFTA. On Thursday the Standing Committee on Finance, which I am fortunate to chair, will also be in Washington to meet our American counterparts on issues of both concern and opportunity.
These activities follow on the Canada-U.S. IPG’s joint sessions with members of the U.S. House of Representatives in Windsor, Ont., in September. Trade was among our topics. Windsor was picked as the location because of the amount of trade and commerce between our Nations that is actually visible on a daily basis crossing the Ambassador Bridge to Detroit and beyond.
In October, as co-chair I spoke to the Canadian/American Border Trade Alliance in Washington. The focus then as it is now was the current negotiations to change NAFTA.
I concentrated on four topics: Chapter 19 dispute settlement, procurement, a sunset clause and the negotiating timeline.
Chapter 19 enables reviews of the fairness of countervailing and anti-dumping duties imposed by a country. Substantial duties recently imposed on some Canadian softwood lumber products and Canadian 100 to 150-seat large civil aircraft demonstrate a clear need for a process to review the fairness of U.S.-imposed duties.
Concerning procurement, we repeatedly tell U.S. legislators that such domestic preference programs as “Buy American” harm cross-border supply chains, distort investment, result in higher prices, negatively affect U.S. jobs, and lead to pressure for similar Canadian measures. In my view, we can only compete internationally as an effective North American bloc if, to the extent possible, our focus is “Buy North American.”
Regarding a sunset clause, like U.S. Senators Roberts, Portman and Toomey, we feel that it would reduce certainty and predictability, with negative impacts. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, suggested such a clause is “a terrible idea,” and rightly so.
Regarding the expected date for concluding negotiations, the aggressive timeline initially set appears to be shifting with most recent negotiating rounds being somewhat contentious. Ministers from all three countries spoke about significant conceptual gaps and called on negotiators to explore creative ways to bridge these gaps. Only time will tell whether those gaps have been sufficiently reduced or bridged.
While I’m hopeful that future negotiating rounds will bring us closer to a modernized NAFTA, ongoing comments by President Trump and the U.S. Trade Representative about U.S. withdrawal from NAFTA, and U.S. Secretary Ross’ comment that the U.S. is “not in a position to offer anything in return” to Canada and Mexico, are worrying.
On balance, trade agreements have benefitted all three countries. We hope to deliver that message to U.S. legislators this week on Capitol Hill in meetings on the critical issue of trade, particularly NAFTA.
- Malpeque MP Wayne Easter, is co-chair, Canada–United States Inter-Parliamentary Group; and Chairman of the Commons Standing Committee on Finance