Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Derek H. Burney was Canada's ambassador to the United States from 1989-1993. He was directly involved in concluding negotiations of the free-trade agreement with the United States. Fen Osler Hampson is Chancellor's Professor at Carleton University and the author of the forthcoming book Master of Persuasion: Brian Mulroney's Global Legacy

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's two-day trip to Washington comes none too soon. Canada is being whipsawed by Donald Trump's administration on many fronts. Relations are in a deep dive as Canada gets hit by punitive measures on softwood lumber (initiated by the Obama administration) and, more recently, by the outlandishly harsh tactics by the Trump administration against Bombardier, Canada's aerospace giant, amid allegations of unfair subsidies.

Read also: Trudeau's Washington mission: Don't play cute with Trump

Story continues below advertisement

A thickening fog is now enveloping the North American free-trade agreement, a cornerstone of Canadian prosperity, as talks bog down over extreme U.S. demands on procurement, content rules for autos and dispute arbitration. The next round of NAFTA talks begins in Washington on Wednesday, so the Prime Minister's visit is timely and necessary.

In fact, despite all the American yammering about trade "deficits," and the initially tough rhetoric directed at China, Japan and Germany, each of which have much larger trade deficits than Canada (where the United States is actually running a modest surplus) or Mexico, the only country really being hit with punitive trade measures is Canada.

Direct contact between the two leaders is the only way to clarify objectives and identify the critical ingredients for political and economic success.

Mr. Trudeau is Canada's most powerful card. Only he can make a deal with the biggest wild card, President Trump himself, whose motives other than "make America great again" remain unclear.

The Prime Minister has assiduously courted the American President from his first day in office and from all reports has a good personal rapport with Mr. Trump. With all the turbulence in Washington, he and his officials have chosen their words carefully, displaying discipline, tact and self-restraint.

But the Prime Minister is going to have to use more than his charm when he meets with the U.S. President. He may need his boxing gloves, too.

His first challenge is to find out what Mr. Trump's view is of the political and economic ingredients of a successful negotiation. Mr. Trump's repeated insinuation that NAFTA is "the worst trade deal ever" raises suspicion about his real intent. The Prime Minister will have to probe his true motives – concluding a mutually satisfactory deal in revising NAFTA or abrogation.

Story continues below advertisement

If the President wants a deal, the Prime Minister must nail down a common understanding with Mr. Trump about what constitutes "success." That includes being clear to the President about Canadian objectives and what a "win" means for us, for example, better, more certain market access.

But Mr. Trudeau should also be firm with Mr. Trump about what demands will be show-stoppers. He should make it clear that we do not naively believe that any agreement is better than none. Mr. Trudeau should resist any pressure to make unilateral concessions while signalling that he reserves the right to say, "No thanks." Given the propensity for protectionist, U.S. trade "remedy" measures, the dispute-settlement mechanism is more vital than ever and should be a "show stopper."

The Prime Minister has a strong hand. There is a presidential election in Mexico next year and Mr. Trump's failure to secure a new deal will have a negative impact on Republicans in the 2018 congressional elections. If Mr. Trump decides unilaterally to abrogate NAFTA, unscrambling the NAFTA omelette will require congressional approval as well as time-consuming legislative change, which will be much harder if the Democrats win either or both houses.

As demonstrated more than two decades ago in both the negotiation of the Canada-U.S. free-trade agreement (FTA) and NAFTA, success depends upon deep political engagement and linkage at the top leadership level. On the FTA, for example, when negotiations were deadlocked, it took direct intervention by former prime minister Brian Mulroney with former president Ronald Reagan to break the impasse. Mr. Mulroney did the same with former president George H.W. Bush in 1990 when the Americans tried to shut Canada out of NAFTA negotiations with Mexico. North America's leaders then had a common pro-trade vision. That is not the case today and represents the biggest obstacle to success.

Mr. Trudeau's message when he goes to the White House should be friendly, but also prudently calculated to impress upon Mr. Trump that it takes two to tango and, in this case, three to make a deal.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies