You don’t need U.S. President Donald Trump’s suggestion that the United States is deliberately freezing Canada out of NAFTA talks to know that’s what’s happening, observers say.
“I hardly think that anybody who’s followed the evolution of the NAFTA talks over the past weeks would be surprised that the president would be saying we’re sort of keeping Canada at arms length,” said Brian Crowley, managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.
Mexico and the U.S. have been deliberating and Canadian attempts to get at the table have been “repeatedly rebuffed,” Crowley said.
“This is not just idle chat … but in fact reflects the policy of the administration, which is that they think they need to isolate Canada.”
How exactly a sidelined Canada will impact the future of NAFTA remains to be seen. No option is off the table yet.
Given that negotiations are ongoing, Elliot Tepper said people shouldn’t predict success or failure from whatever Trump, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, or anyone else at the negotiating table says publicly.
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All statements “should be taken as part of the negotiation process rather than as an indicator of the possibility of success or failure,” said Tepper, an international relations professor at Carleton University.
While Tepper isn’t perturbed by Canada being sidelined from current discussions, he isn’t exactly optimistic.
Trump has made it clear he’d prefer bilateral deals over multilateral agreements, he said, and even once Mexico and the United States finish negotiating over auto wages, “there remain a wide, serious set of potential stumbling blocks for successful renewal of NAFTA.”
Being rebuffed from the table, even just on auto wages, is a bad sign, said Walid Hejazi, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
“If it’s only the discussion about raising the costs in Mexico, then Canada doesn’t have to be there. But of course, it’s never only that in broader discussions,” he said.
While Hejazi is supportive of how Trudeau’s government is handling the file, he said Canada should be cautious now about how it proceeds.
“Any agreement is not better than no agreement,” he said. “There are lots of agreements we could make that would hurt Canada.”
Not everyone is so supportive of the federal government’s negotiation efforts.
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“We should be back at the negotiating table, be willing to put water in our wine,” said Ian Lee, an associate professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business.
Trudeau started negotiations on the wrong track, Lee said, committing to publicly defending certain industries rather than negotiating “the best possible deal for all Canadians.”
Canada’s in a weak spot, Crowley said.
There’s a real risk now that Canada will lose its voice: “They’re going to clearly strike a deal with Mexico and say to Canada, are you in or you out?”