Fuelled by Britain’s vote to leave the European Union — the Brexit — presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is on the warpath against trade agreements he sees as holding America back.
“Our friends in Britain recently voted to take back control of their economy, politics and borders,” Trump said Tuesday during a campaign stop at a metal recycling plant in Monessen, Pennsylvania.
“Now it’s time for the American people to take back their future. We are going to take it back.”
And topping his enemy list is the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). If elected, he’s saying it’s his way or no way when it comes to NAFTA.
“I’m going to tell our NAFTA partners that I intend to immediately renegotiate the terms of that agreement to get a better deal for our workers,” The Hill reported him saying.
“If they do not agree to a renegotiation, then I will submit notice under Article 2205 of the NAFTA agreement that America intends to withdraw from the deal.”
He makes that sound simple but, obviously, that’s not the case.
“This is just another example of Donald Trump not knowing what he’s talking about,” said Carlo Dade, a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Social Sciences and director of the Centre for Trade and Investment Policy, Canada West Foundation.
Dade said you can theoretically say you want the 22-year-old treaty renegotiated, or you’re going to walk, but the reality is much more complex.
“It’s a deep web of not just what’s been negotiated in NAFTA, but what’s been done outside NAFTA,” he explained,” referencing agreements like Beyond the Border Action Plan, the Regulatory Cooperation Council and other bilateral agreements.
NAFTA, Dade said, may actually be more difficult to disassemble than it was to put it together in the first place, as Trump would have to undo all the regulations that have been put into place over the past two decades.
“Twenty years of working together. Twenty years of building businesses that are predicated on having NAFTA in place. It’s a hell of a lot to do that’s not readily apparent,” Dade said.
Trump would also have to go to great lengths to actually pull the U.S. out of NAFTA.
“Presidential powers are limited but a president with this kind of a trade agenda could easily make life difficult for trading partners by pushing presidential executive powers to the limit,” Toronto lawyer Mark Warner told the Canadian Press.
He described Trump as the most protectionist presidential candidate” in nearly a century. But he warns the protectionist rhetoric could have a negative side effect — one that might affect Canada.
“The worst case for Canada is that he might push (Hillary) Clinton to be more protectionist in border states if the contest narrows,” Warner said.
Trump’s comments come as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hosts U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto for discussions about NAFTA, in what’s become known as the Three Amigos Summit. All three leaders are aiming to strengthen their trade relationships, not break them apart.
But, there may actually be some support for some of Trump’s anti-NAFTA sentiment here in Canada — at least when it comes to renegotiating the agreement.
A recent Angus Reid poll found Canadians were divided on whether the treaty benefitted them: 26 per cent of respondents believed the deal was bad for them, while 25 per cent though it was a good thing.
And much like the generational divide in the U.K. during the Brexit vote, the outcome of which Trump is trying to capitalize on, older respondents view NAFTA more negatively than younger respondents.
But, unlike the support for the Brexit, only nine per cent of Canadians want to nix NAFTA, while more than three times as many people, 34 per cent of respondents, would like to see the deal renegotiated.
South of the border, a Gallup poll in April found 28 per cent of Americans favoured pulling out of free trade deals like NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership and an equal number of people preferred the U.S. to continue their participation in such deals.
— With files from Global’s Rebecca Joseph and the Canadian Press