WASHINGTON — Negotiations aimed at modernizing the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, Mexico and the United States soon may get under way. On July 17, Ambassador Robert E. Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative, issued a required summary of U.S. trade objectives for the NAFTA renegotiation, which cleared the way from the U.S. perspective for talks to begin on Aug. 16. Just ahead of the release of the U.S.T.R.’s trade objectives document, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed a summer meeting of the National Governors Association in Providence, R.I., on the importance of NAFTA to the North American economies and to the historic U.S.-Canada partnership.
“To boil this down to one point: Canada is your biggest, best customer, by far,” Mr. Trudeau told the governors. “We’re a bigger customer than China by roughly $152 billion. Bigger than Japan or the United Kingdom. No one else comes close. In fact, Canada buys more from the United States than China, Japan and the United Kingdom combined.”
Mr. Trudeau said NAFTA created the largest free trade zone in the world, comprising a $19 trillion regional market of 470 million consumers.
“The United States, Canada and Mexico together now account for more than a quarter of the world’s GDP,” he said. “Since the trilateral agreement went into effect in 1994, U.S. trade with your NAFTA partners has tripled. That accounts for millions of well-paying middle-class jobs for Canadians and Americans. Free trade has worked. It is working now.”
Mr. Trudeau acknowledged NAFTA should be updated and modernized, “as it has been a dozen times over the past quarter century.” NAFTA has strengthened the historic U.S.-Canada relationship, which, he said, was a model for the world.
“It is of critical importance for people on both sides of the border that we maintain it and, indeed, improve it,” he said. “We must get it right.”
The prime minster cautioned against politically-tempting shortcuts.
“More trade barriers, more local-content provisions, more preferential access for home-grown players in government procurement, for example, does not help working families over the long term, or even the mid-term,” he said. “Such policies kill growth. And that hurts the very workers these measures are nominally intended to protect. Once we travel down that road, it can quickly become a cycle of tit-for-tat, a race to the bottom, where all sides lose.”
Mr. Trudeau concluded saying, “I believe to my core that the most important challenge we face, as elected leaders, is that of creating lasting conditions for prosperity and security for all our people in this, our shared North American home. By virtue of our geography, by virtue of our interlinked economies, this is work we are called to do together – within a modernized, renewed and strengthened North American Free Trade Agreement.”