Freeland charts course for more 'progressive' trade deal


NO ONE can predict if Canada will end up a victor, a loser or a mere bystander in the Trump administration's drive to rewrite cross-border trade rules to benefit American workers and industries.

President Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw from Nafta if Mexico and Canada don't agree to more favorable terms for the U.S.

The CEO of Harry Rosen high-end men's clothing isn't afraid of the new e-commerce world.

"Canada is really committed to working hard to make this agreement more progressive and we see some real opportunities to do that, particularly in the labour chapter", Freeland told the group ahead of their closed-door talk. But he said Canada will be ready to tackle whatever comes up at the 28 separate bargaining tables. The success or failure of the coming negotiations will largely determine whether USA trade policy can find a firmer footing for the future or continue to be handcuffed by a lack of political and popular support.

At the time, President George H.W. Bush was wrapping up the details of a North American Free Trade Agreement that came to be known in political parlance by its acronym, NAFTA.

The Trump administration says it wants to reduce trade deficits with its North American partners. Mexico is the gateway to Central and South America. Americans are able to import $800 of goods bought online duty-free.

Chrystia Freeland will push for additional labour and environmental sections when she shares broad strokes today of Canada's goals for the upcoming NAFTA talks.

Of course, Trump could try out a more traditional "pro-America" argument for trade-that strengthening NAFTA rules for digital commerce, for intellectual property, for labor and environmental standards, would all help USA companies and the workers they employ. The Canadians argue 9 million American jobs depend on trade and investment with Canada.

"They clearly want to do something on China, but China has a lot of leverage, so they have to think about it carefully", said Caroline Freund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. "We're in the midst of a renegotiation right now so we'll see", he added.

Mexico's main trade group has had more than 120 meetings with USA policy makers over the past nine months, including 20 governors and more than 50 members of Congress.

The timeline for the talks is expected to be aggressive, given elections in Mexico in July 2018, as well as the United States legislative calendar. And the fed launched an on-line petition to pressure USA bargainers towards those goals.

Talks are scheduled to start Wednesday and expected to last six or seven months.

A more aggressive approach - demanding more made-in-America content for products that qualify for NAFTA's duty-free status, for example - risks imperiling some benefits that Americans think the trade deal provided to them. Freund pointed to streamlining de minimis thresholds on cross-border shipments, including provisions on currency manipulation, addressing trucks crossing the U.S. -Mexico border and altering rules on softwood lumber as potential areas for agreement among the three countries.

NAFTA took years to negotiate and experts say that cutting a new agreement in five months is wishful thinking. "Retroactive relief is not available under the WTO dispute settlement system".

"The answer is no", says Ottawa-based trade worldwide trade strategist Peter Clark, who was involved in the NAFTA and Canada-US free trade negotiations.