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47% of Canadians think Trudeau should take a hard-line on NAFTA concessions

In the absence of a public consultation in Canada on the upcoming renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), it’s instructive to try to piece together how people view the imminent talks and gauge the concessions that are likely to be made of Canada and First Nations.

A new Angus Reid Institute poll found that 47 per cent of Canadians say Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “should employ a hard approach, which would entail refusing concessions, even at the risk of damaging the relationship between the two countries”, while 53 per cent believe Trudeau “should take a soft approach, where difficult concessions might be made” to maintain the Canada-US trade relationship.

That split opinion is before the broader public has heard of the specific concessions that are likely to be demanded of them. But we do know there will be demands for concessions. US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has already stated, “The Mexicans know, the Canadians know, everybody knows. They all know they’re going to have to make concessions. The only question is what’s the magnitude, and what’s the form of the concessions.”

The Senate confirmation hearing for US President Donald Trump’s nomination for US Trade Representation, Robert Lighthizer, may be one indication of the concessions the US will be demanding.

The Canadian Press reports, “In a possible preview of upcoming NAFTA negotiations, Donald Trump’s pick as trade czar was urged to get tough with Canada on multiple fronts including lumber, dairy, and intellectual property, during a hearing in the U.S. Congress on Tuesday [March 14].”

That article notes:

  • Orrin Hatch (Republican-Utah) urged Lighthizer to demand more aggressive screening of cargo from Canada for counterfeit products;

  • Ron Wyden (Democrat-Oregon) advocated for a tough approach on softwood lumber;

  • Pat Toomey (Republican-Pennsylvania) criticized the restrictions on exporting US cheese and milk into Canada;

  • Pat Roberts (Republican-Kansas) spoke against country-of-origin-labelling (COOL) on meat.

Lighthizer said today, “I’ve had a variety of issues with respect to Canada that have been raised by senators… Certainly (softwood) is at the top of the list.”

Earlier news reports have also suggested that the Trump administration will be seeking concessions on rules of origin for tariff-free vehicles (which could mean reducing the import of car parts from Canada for cars manufactured in the United States) and on the investor-state dispute settlement provision (which the US sees as unfavourable to them even though they have never lost a challenge while Canada and Mexico have paid out almost $375 million in lost or settled claims).

The Trudeau government has not made public its strategy, but there is the indication that it would make concessions on dairy to protect, for instance, the energy sector.

This morning, The Globe and Mail reported, “When Mr. Trump comes looking for concessions from Ottawa, you can bet dairy will be near the top of his NAFTA 2.0 hit list. The Trump administration knows that Ottawa is willing to give something on dairy – if only to protect other sectors, such as auto, steel and energy.”

The Council of Canadians continues to call on the Trudeau government to hold meaningful consultations with the public and Indigenous peoples prior to the NAFTA talks.

We have also called on the Trudeau government to be open and transparent throughout the entirety of the talks, something Trudeau demanded of then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper when the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks were concluded in the absence of public consultations and information being made public on the various concessions made during those talks.

Today’s Canadian Press article notes, “The U.S. trade representative would need to start consulting lawmakers at least 90 days before negotiations begin, meaning that if the White House launched the NAFTA process this month, it would conduct consultations through the spring, before negotiations started in the summer or fall.”

To demand that the Trudeau government hold public consultations on the upcoming NAFTA talks, please respond to this online action alert.