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FORUM (AUGUST 2017): Modernizing an extraordinary agreement

September 13th, 2017 · No Comments

Prepare for excitement and drama during trade talks

By Chrystia Freeland

As we undertake our discussions with the United States and Mexico on the renegotiation of NAFTA, we are seeking your views. Are there areas of the agreement that could be clarified? Are there parts that should be updated? Are there any new sections that should be part of a modernized agreement? Please visit to participate in the public consultation process.

In his book about the war of 1812, the historian Alan Taylor describes how, at the height of the conflict between the United States and British Canada, the U.S. forces unaccountably held off trying to invade the St. Lawrence River valley.

Such an invasion might have dramatically changed the outcome of the war. But it never happened.

The reason, Taylor writes, is that American and Canadian merchants and farmers in the border towns were enthusiastic cross-border traders. And some of them, on the American side, had influence in Washington.

Any actual fighting, these Yankee entrepreneurs successfully argued, would be bad for business. So they urged Washington to take care.

This story epitomizes one of the most important aspects of trade: it brings us into shared purpose across national borders, working to address common needs — even in the most extraordinary circumstances.

This brings me to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) — and the historic project on which we are embarking, with our neighbours, to modernize this landmark pact for the twenty-first century.

Trade is about people. It’s about creating the best possible conditions for growth, for jobs, and for prosperity.

Thanks to NAFTA, the North American economy is highly integrated, making our companies more competitive in the global marketplace and creating more jobs on our continent.

NAFTA has been an extraordinary success story. And, Canadians today largely agree with me in that assessment. A Pew Research poll in May found that 74 per cent of those surveyed think NAFTA has been good for Canada. This is a remarkable consensus. It extends across the political spectrum. It is reflected in the high calibre of the people who recently joined our NAFTA Council. These members set partisan politics aside to work to pursue the national interest. I am grateful.

Our mission is clear. We are in this effort for all Canadians — and beyond that, for the broader North American community. Because if we get this right, the working people of all three countries will benefit.

Canada, the United States, and Mexico have a powerful shared interest in reaching a mutually beneficial agreement.

Strong economic fundamentals are a compelling argument for bolstering what works, and improving what can be made better. I am confident that this is a story with a happy ending.

But, as I am sure Canadians appreciate, the path to getting there could well include some moments of excitement as well as a few moments of drama.

I am no stranger myself to moments of drama in trade talks. We are delighted CETA has been signed and ratified and will be provisionally applied on Sept. 21. But before we got there, our talks with the Wallonian government in Namur broke down. I had to make the difficult decision to get up from the table, and go home.

Preparing for these negotiations has already united us as a country.

I have been astounded and moved by the extremely high level of support and collaboration. That is because of this fundamental reality: the Canada-U.S. economic relationship is the most significant, the most mutually beneficial, and the most effective anywhere in the world. We know that. And, particularly after six months of constant reminders from their friends in the north, our American neighbours now know it, too.

Good fundamentals lead to good results — and that is what we will achieve.

Chrystia Freeland is the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Member of Parliament for University-Rosedale.


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