Chambers of Commerce looking for feedback on NAFTA renegotiation

Ship AlgoSteel about to dock in Hamilton with a load of iron ore.
Ship AlgoSteel about to dock in Hamilton with a load of iron ore. Stephen C. Host / File / The Canadian Press

U.S. President Donald Trump’s commitment to renegotiating NAFTA has been met with a willingness to engage by Canadian leaders.

This, in turn, has left Chambers of Commerce across the country scrambling to get a grip on the potential implications.

In Hamilton, Windsor-Essex and Sault Ste. Marie, Chambers in Ontario have launched an online survey to get a better idea of the challenges faced by the steel and manufacturing industries in relation to NAFTA.

Policy and research analyst Huzaifa Saeed said up until the Trump presidency and talk of ‘Buy America’ policies, a change in trade relations was not on the radar.

READ MORE: Canada’s NAFTA strategy: Avoid divide-and-conquer

“It’s not something we have been discussing at our economic summit in Hamilton or even in the news media for the past decade” he said.

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Saeed believes little attention was paid to potential changes in this area because there seemed to be a symbiotic relationship.

“We have plants in Southern Ontario that are supplied by Canadian steel, steel made in Hamilton as well as auto parts made in Hamilton.”

“They’ve benefited from a single car being made across three countries, and it’s almost seamless,” Saeed said.

The question being posed to member companies through the newly launched survey is simple, he says: What is your trade relationship with the U.S.?

Part of the survey asks respondents to identify challenges to profit and growth, with some options being regulatory barriers, the cost of doing business, and the Canadian government procurement process.

READ MORE: NAFTA renegotiation an opportunity to improve trade deal for Ontario: Wynne

With discussions between politicians expected to commence as early as August, the race is on to push feedback to the top.

Saeed says the Hamilton Chamber is putting out an open invitation to those involved in the discussions, to visit the city and meet member companies affected by NAFTA.

There will also be an effort, he said, on the part of the chamber to gather input from both the agri-food sector and the service sector in the coming weeks.

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“Canada-wide, it’s a $800-billion file” said Saeed.

“It’s certainly not small potatoes and we’re very much moving around quite a few of our projects to prioritize this as a key issue.”