U.S. President Donald Trump is playing a risky game by threatening ongoing negotiations around how to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), says the former American ambassador to Canada.
In an interview with CNBC on Thursday, Bruce Heyman told host Becky Quick that the trade agreement – signed 24 years ago to allow for the free flow of goods between Canada, the United States and Mexico – has been “broadly, incredibly successful” and that apparent efforts by the president to scupper it are not the behaviour that would be expected between countries with ties as tight as those between Canada and the United States.
“Let’s pause for a minute and recognize that Canada is our best friend in the world,” said Heyman, pointing to the cooperation on the world stage and shared histories of both countries, as well as the interdependent trading relationship.
“I think we’re playing a bit of Russian roulette. It’s one thing to do it with your enemies. It’s another thing to do it with your best friend.”
The comment from Heyman, who served in Ottawa during the administration of former president Barack Obama and was a major fundraiser for the Democratic Party, comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet are in London, Ont., for a retreat and a town hall set to take place later tonight.
WATCH ABOVE: NAFTA and its unpredictability keeps Prime Minister up at night
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is leading Canada’s renegotiation of NAFTA, told reporters earlier Thursday that Canada will “stand up” for Canadian workers and that officials are prepared for the possibility that the U.S. could signal its intention to withdraw from the agreement.
“Our approach from the start has been to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. So Canada is prepared for every eventuality,” she said. “That is a whole-of-government operation.”
NAFTA negotiations are set to enter a sixth and final round in Montreal over three days beginning on Jan. 23.
Officials have set a March deadline for negotiators to come to a new agreement but the three parties remain far apart on multiple key issues, including provisions around protections in place for the Canadian dairy and forestry sectors.
News on Wednesday that Canadian officials are increasingly prepared for Trump to pull the plug on the deal sent stock markets and the dollar tumbling.
Canada is the top export market for two-thirds of American states and is the second-largest market for the other third.
The economies of both countries are so closely related that experts say removing the lubricant of NAFTA would result in a spike in the prices of consumer goods ranging from cars to groceries.