Maryscott Greenwood is the CEO of the Canadian American Business Council and a principal in Dentons U.S. LLP where she co-leads the federal government relations practice group. She was previously a U.S. diplomat who served in Ottawa.
Conventional wisdom emerging from the fourth round of the current NAFTA negotiations is that the trade agreement is nearly dead, awaiting the digestion of a poison pill to end it completely. Pundits fear a unilateral U.S. withdrawal, or a frustrated partner deciding to flip the table to end the talks. From my vantage point, I see it a little differently. We are just beginning the hard part of the process, and I have faith in a certain sisterhood that just might be able to save the deal.
The composition of the sisterhood is as follows: the Prime Minister Whisperer, the Technocrats, the Secret Weapon, the Scribes and the New Powerhouse. To be clear, these are not the only characters in the cast of NAFTA. The front line of the negotiations is populated with an accomplished cadre including Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
But the group I am about to describe is an entirely new phenomenon to emerge in modern trade negotiations.
Let me introduce you to the dream team, or as I call them, the Sisterhood that Could Save NAFTA.
First we have the Prime Minister Whisperer – Mr. Trudeau's chief of staff Katie Telford. Outside power circles in Ottawa/Washington/Mexico City, people may not realize the extent of Ms. Telford's impact or the power of her strategic thinking. A trusted member of the Trudeau inner circle and a lighthouse of ideas, Ms. Telford's ability to find outside-the-box solutions to tough political questions could be a key ingredient to NAFTA's ultimate success.
The Technocrats are Canada's new Deputy Chief of Mission in Washington, Kirsten Hillman and Ana Luisa Fajer Flores, Mexican Embassy DC Chief of Staff. A seasoned negotiator and expert in dispute resolution, Ms. Hillman led Canada's team in the complex multiparty Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. Smart and fearless, she is now the top career official at 501 Pennsylvania Avenue, strategically positioned between the U.S. Capitol and the White House with an eye toward influencing both.
For her part, everything in her professional experience to date has prepared Ms. Flores for this moment. Formerly consul in St. Paul, Minn., and adviser to the President of the Committee of Foreign Affairs of the Senate in Mexico, among other portfolios, Ms. Flores has deep insights into the governmental and political factors on both sides of the border that weigh on the current trade negotiations.
The Secret Weapon is Andrea van Vugt. She is the vice-president for North American policy of the Business Council of Canada, and a voice of reason in an otherwise frantic world of doomsday scenarios of the end of NAFTA. As the youngest member of almost every high-profile panel on which she serves, Ms. van Vugt patiently explains the interconnectedness of the North American economy and the role it plays in global prosperity. In addition, Ms. van Vugt provides the secretariat for the Canada/U.S. women's CEO council launched at the White House earlier this year. It is one of the few outside advisory councils still intact after business leaders sought to distance themselves from the White House in the wake of various controversies.
The Scribes are Rossella Brevetti and Megan Cassella. Ms. Brevetti writes on trade policy for Bloomberg BNA and Ms. Cassella covers trade for Politico. Ms. Brevetti tirelessly works her sources gathering tips and context for the latest developments in an otherwise opaque and archaic process of trade negotiations. Ms. Cassella's morning newsletter is essential education for everyone following the negotiations. Somehow the mini but mighty Politico Pro Trade team has figured out how to be everywhere in D.C. at one time, explaining each morning what happened the previous day and what to expect in the hours ahead.
The New Powerhouse is the incoming U.S. ambassador to Canada, Kelly Craft. Named in March of this year and confirmed Aug. 3, she will present credentials in Canada on Oct. 23 and immediately assume her official duties. The first woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to Canada, Ms. Craft is already proving to be a powerful asset in the Sisterhood to save NAFTA. She is a consummate relationship builder, who has not only the confidence of the White House, but also of House and Senate leadership and a number of key Governors.
Unlike the USTR negotiators and other members of the U.S. cabinet who have competing priorities to manage, Ms. Craft wakes up every morning with one laser-like focus – how to enhance the Canada/U.S. relationship. No one will work harder or longer to develop channels of communication that in the end can save NAFTA. Ms. Craft and her counterpart, ambassador David MacNaughton, have already developed a close rapport, and the moving trucks have not yet even departed Lexington for Ottawa.
So let others draft an obituary for NAFTA. I have confidence in the power of the sisterhood to save it.