Colin Robertson is vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute
A proposed deal – not NAFTA 2.0 but, in deference to U.S. President Donald Trump who initiated this 13-month odyssey, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
Judging by the market reaction, the USMCA should be good enough to thaw the chill shared by investors, both Canadian and foreign, since the negotiations began. We are not out of the woods – congressional approval of the necessary implementation legislation is no slam dunk and there is still the threat of further Trumpian protectionism, whether direct or through collateral damage.
The dairy lobby is aggrieved but they dodged a bullet. Supply management, a protectionist system badly in need of reform, is preserved. We gave the Americans about half-a-percentage more of the market than they would have received had Mr. Trump not pulled out of the Obama-initiated Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Even with the additional quota negotiated for the EU in the Canada-EU trade pact (CETA), more than 90 per cent of our dairy market is still protected for Canadian producers. It is also a sure bet that the federal and provincial governments will open their wallets to provide adjustment assistance to the afflicted, although for taxpayers’ sake there must be demonstrable proof of injury. There is no reason why our dairy farmers cannot become as successful internationally as our beef and pork, grains and pulse producers, especially given the growing appetite for protein in the Indo-Pacific.
The dairy lobby’s cry of pain is reminiscent of that heard from vintners after the Canada-U.S. free-trade agreement (FTA) of 1988 opened up their market. Today their products are both very drinkable and sell more than ever before. The tentative new agreement means that U.S. wines will now share shelf space on British Columbians’ shelves with B.C. wines, but B.C. protectionism is the kind of non-tariff barrier that we rail against in other markets. Redress was overdue and it reminds us that, when it comes to protectionism, no nation has clean hands.
Canadian auto manufacturers have cause for celebration. It appears we have evaded Mr. Trump’s threatened 25-per-cent tariff and, even if trade is slightly more managed, the new rules of origin and the wage component could well create more opportunities, especially for Canada’s highly competitive parts manufacturers – our real niche in the global auto trade.
There is the potential for slight cost increases in pharmaceuticals with the extension of patent protection but provincial administrators are now very skilled at using their cartel power to get the best price from drug manufacturers. E-commerce shoppers can celebrate because purchases under $150 will now pass much more freely and our customs inspectors can focus on bigger game, including keeping counterfeits out of North America.
Our negotiators deserve a glass of sparkling wine (Canadian) but the USMCA is far from being a done deal. While majority governments in Canada and Mexico will be able to secure legislative implementation, passage in the next U.S. Congress is no sure thing.
We need to continue the advocacy campaign into the regions and within the Washington beltway. Most Americans still have no idea that their main export market is Canada and that jobs and prosperity depend on mutually beneficial trade and commerce. More than 300 Team Canada outreach missions made contact with more than 300 members of Congress, 60 governors or lieutenants-governor and most of the Trump cabinet. To protect Canadian interests this must become a permanent campaign.
The premiers and provincial legislators must continue to play a critical role in reaching out to their counterparts and this should be a main discussion topic at the upcoming first-ministers meeting on trade. We need to increase our presence in the U.S. – a representative in every state should be our goal. Here again, the premiers can help through establishing offices in the states that matter most to them. Ontario is the province most dependent on the U.S. market. Instead of seeking federal handouts, Premier Doug Ford could learn from Quebec. La belle province has long had representatives in U.S. states. These representatives complement the work of our consulates.
Our dependence on the U.S. market – 75 per cent of our trade goes south – was used as leverage by Mr. Trump since only 18 per cent of U.S. exports head north. It is another reminder that we really do need to invest in trade diversification. We have deals with the European Union and with key Pacific partners, most notably Japan. How to realize opportunities opened by these agreements must be another discussion at the first-ministers conference. As with our permanent U.S. campaign, trade diversification must be a Team Canada effort.