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Negotiating NAFTA wasn’t easy the first time, and it won’t be easy now: former ambassador

NAFTA negotiations always intense: Giffin
WATCH: Former U.S. ambassador to Canada, Gordon Giffin, tells Vassy Kapelos that people tend to romanticize previous trade negotiations and all three parties will need to back away from some of their demands to get a new trade deal.

A former U.S. ambassador to Canada says anyone predicting the imminent collapse of the ongoing NAFTA re-negotiations should read their history books.

In an interview with The West Block‘s Vassy Kapelos, Gordon Giffin offered an alternative to the doom-and-gloom scenarios that have been circulating in the days since Mexico, Canada and the U.S. really took the gloves off in Washington.

“People tend to forget that it was pretty intense in 1988 when the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement was negotiated and it was very intense in the 1992-93 timeframe when NAFTA was developed,” said Giffin, who began his service as U.S. ambassador to Canada in 1997.

“We barely passed NAFTA through the U.S. Congress. People tend to romanticize prior negotiations … all trade negotiations are intense because there are winners and losers, there are pluses and minuses.”

WATCH: U.S. NAFTA representative surprised, disappointed by ‘resistance to change’

U.S. NAFTA representative surprised, disappointed by resistance to change
U.S. NAFTA representative surprised, disappointed by resistance to change

Giffin added that while the talks may continue to be intense, and even appear to stall, “I don’t think it will fail.”

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One thing that has surprised the former envoy, now a member of the global and U.S. boards at international law firm Dentons LLP, is Canada’s response to the U.S. demands related to supply management in the dairy and poultry sectors.

“We’ve been discussing that for 25 years,” he said.

“I argued about it when I was ambassador, so it’s not stunning that that is now on the table. But the Canadian negotiators responded as if that was a stark new move.”

READ MORE: What if NAFTA ended? These would be Canada’s hardest-hit provinces, industries

On the American side, Giffin said, chief negotiator Robert Lighthizer has zeroed in on the numbers he knows will bolster his position, focusing on a trade deficit in goods, for instance, but not the surplus the U.S. sees when you include both goods and services.

If the trade deal does collapse, he noted, it would cause enormous disruption in the North American economy.

“We have to make it work, we have to improve it,” Giffin told Kapelos. “And, you know, it’s got to be accepted though that there will be concessions in Canada and in Mexico. It can’t just be taking the position that everything the U.S. is asking for is outrageous.”

— Watch the full interview with former U.S. ambassador to Canada Gordon Giffin above.

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