It’s just a week after the name-calling and adolescent spasms on display at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in London, when the U.S. President called Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “two-faced” over comments picked up by a microphone. But as many suspected, or at least hoped, it was just a tempest in a Trump pot.
Far from any damage inflicted – any rupture in the Canada-U.S. relationship – there’s now the opposite. After intense negotiations with Canadian and Mexican officials, U.S. lawmakers have agreed to ratify the new continental trade accord.
With the securing of NAFTA 2.0, or the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), as the White House likes to call it, thus ends one of the longest-running, highest-stakes disputes in the annals of Ottawa-Washington confrontations.
Trade is the motor of the Canada-U.S. relationship. Owing to Donald Trump’s trade-war proclivities, its condition has been in a state of uncertainty, under threat of destabilization ever since he came to power. As the Bank of Canada has noted, this has contributed to reduced business investment in Canada and slower economic growth.
The announcement Tuesday was well overshadowed by the Trump impeachment drama. But it constitutes a notable achievement for a President whose aggressiveness on trade has failed to show results elsewhere. It’s a significant moment for Mr. Trudeau, too, as it is a far more important issue than whether Canada’s level of defence spending meets the demands of Washington or that of a semi-obsolete NATO.
Never short on superlatives, Mr. Trump predicted the accord “will be the best and most important trade deal ever made by the USA.” He and his Republicans need it to help secure the support of his blue-collar constituents in swing states. Democrats needed to show they were not a do-nothing party, as Mr. Trump alleges. They too need the backing of working-class voters in those states and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was quick to try to take credit for the agreement, saying her party’s changes had made it “infinitely better than what was initially proposed by the administration. … We’re declaring victory for the American worker.”
The latest revisions demanded by the Democrats and agreed to by the Republicans include strong labour enforcement regulations and the scrapping of a provision that could have led to high prescription drug prices. Votes in the House and the Senate will finalize the deal within the next month and there will be no problem with it gaining approval by the Canadian Parliament.
After last week’s upheaval, it’s a good bet the President and the Prime Minister will be on good terms again. Such is the reality of the bilateral relationship: It’s sometimes battered, but never broken.
The dust-up in London stirred fears of reprisals from an often vengeful White House. Mockery of Mr. Trudeau poured forth from Donald Trump, Jr., the President’s fire-breathing son. When news of last month’s deep Canadian job losses were posted, he tweeted. “Maybe Justin should watch @realDonald Trump & learn how to create jobs...or go back to being a substitute drama teacher.”
Mr. Trudeau, whose government has fared quite well on the jobs front, surely has learning to do. But he’ll gladly take a pass on watching and learning from the gong show offered by Don Junior’s father.
The Prime Minister’s tepid criticisms of Mr. Trump in London initially drew excessive scorn from the media, myself included. As the dust settled, it was the President who deservedly got the heat for his “two-faced” cheap shot. Joe Biden’s campaign for the Democratic nomination used a clip of Mr. Trudeau and other leaders yukking it up at Mr. Trump’s expense as a campaign ad.
While ratifying the accord, the Trudeau government can enjoy the spectacle of this reckless President being put through the impeachment ringer, even though he will likely survive the ordeal.
With security finally established on the trade front, the damage Mr. Trump can now do to Canada is diminished.
That he can belittle Ottawa for not meeting a pledge on defence spending is the height of hypocrisy when viewed in the context of agreements he has broken or withdrawn from: the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate accord, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the United Nations Human Rights Council.
But at least one deal Mr. Trump won’t be breaking is the new NAFTA. The turmoil on the continental trade front is finally over. All parties – the President and the Prime Minister – can say so with a straight face.
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