Bruce Heyman, former United States ambassador to Canada, has publicly said what we all probably knew but didn’t speak; the new NAFTA deal is dead in the water.
Heyman, speaking on CTV’s Question Period this past weekend, stated that the new trilateral deal, in its present form, will never come to pass.
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He lays a lot of the blame on U.S. President Donald Trump for “messing up the clock” on getting a negotiated deal ratified and, although there might be a tinge of partisanship in his comments given that Heyman was appointed by former president Barack Obama, there is substantial truth to his opinion.
Talks began in 2017. In 2018, Trump’s chief trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, presented Trump with a revamped NAFTA deal that was agreed upon by the American, Canadian and Mexican negotiating teams.
At the time, Trump’s Republican Party dominated both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Trudeau government, of course, was (and still has) a majority government. And, then-Mexican president Pena Nieto was still in office and fully onside. The new deal was signed by all three leaders on Nov. 30.
Yet the deal requires ratification, and the political landscape has seen a seismic shift.
Pena Nieto signed the deal for Mexico on his last day in office. The Trudeau government, meanwhile, is sagging in the polls with an election on the horizon and it seems less enthusiastic about ratifying a deal that was unpopular in many parts of the country.
More important though, was the change in the political dynamic in the United States.
The Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, and with their eye on unseating Trump in 2020, they have no desire to give a thumbs up to a trade deal that Trump could claim as a victory.
Of course, Trump’s ill-advised steel and aluminum tariffs and Canada’s retaliatory tariffs have further muddied the waters and have placed the chances of a ratified trade deal at about the same odds as the Leafs winning the Stanley Cup this year.
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The deal seemed to be doomed from the outset; they couldn’t even agree on what to call the pact. Trump refers to it as the USMCA deal, while on this side of the border, it’s called the CUSMA deal.
While all this dithering continues, the current NAFTA deal remains in place and so do the tariffs, which will continue to plague local economies on both sides of the border.
Trump’s opportunity for a new deal has come and gone and the current political impasse probably means our North American trade quagmire isn’t going to be resolved any time soon.