Mariette Mulaire, President and CEO of the World Trade Centre in Winnipeg said Canadian business needs to focus on shifting the attitude in the United States from “Buy America” to “Buy North America.”
To shed light on the anticipated changes in U.S. trade policy under the Donald Trump administration, the World Trade Centre Winnipeg hosted the ‘What’s in it for U.S. Eh’ seminar in Winnipeg recently.
Mulaire said there’s lot’s of discussion but, so far, little has actually changed, in fact none that she’s seen so far. .
“We’ve heard a lot of statements being made about changes to be made or dissatisfaction with certain trade agreements,” she said. “The one that I think is off the table is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, [TPP] and I think that is it so far. The rest is a lot of talk about the North American Trade Agreement [NAFTA] having to be looked at again, about the wall with Mexico and about the fact that we’re going to tighten and buy America. That’s what we’ve been hearing.”
Mulaire said that within the local business community many are taking what they’re hearing as the gospel, and it’s not a done deal. Two, the reality is that this is coming out of Washington and President Trump talking about this. It’s not necessarily what the business community or the business people are saying.
“And we’ve heard more and more and more about Americans saying we need Canada and Canadians know they need American or the United States and we’ve heard a lot, ‘Let’s talk about Buy North America,’ and I think that’s where we should put our focus,” she said.
Mulaire said it’s important for governments, federal provincial and municipal as well as the business community to maintain relationships with their U.S. counterparts and keep open the lines of communication focusing on the successes achieved and the benefits of those relationships.
On a more specific note, George Matheson, Chair of Manitoba Pork said changing U.S. trade policy will force Canada to reevaluate its approach to trade, but so far nothing except TPP has changed and that wasn’t even in effect yet.
Matheson said considering the changing U.S. attitude, moving forward Canada will need to shift its focus to bilateral trade.
“It was a major disappointment that the Trans-Pacific Partnership could not be ratified by the U.S.,” he said. “They were the main player, them and Japan, so without the U.S. in the picture it’s not going to happen so just unilateral trade agreements will have to take place.
We’ve always had significant trade with Japan.”
Matheson sees a great deal of opportunity with China, Korea, Vietnam, and continuing to move forward with Mexico.
“We would like to it have been all encompassing with the many nations involved in the TPP but we will just have to take alternate avenues. President Trump is a businessman,” he said. “I can’t help but think he knows that trade to and from the United States is important. I don’t think he’s going to be to quick to change trade deals and be protectionist when it comes to U.S. trade.
Matheson said NAFTA has worked well, with the odd exception such as COOL which is no longer in place, so renegotiating that deal is cause for concern.
“Mexico is very much a part of NAFTA and the U.S. exports a significant amount of pork into Mexico,” he said. “If that relationship is jeopardized, it will affect the movement of pork out of the U.S. and, because Canadian selling prices for pork are based on the U.S. price, anything that affects the movement of U.S. pork will immediately impact Canadian prices.”
Colin Robertson, the Vice President of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute told the World Trade Centre conference in Winnipeg the key messages Canada needs to deliver to the United States is Canada is a fair trader and Canada is a reliable ally.
Robertson said the U.S. President’s stand on trade, including his pledge to renegotiate NAFTA, has important implications for Canada.
“I think it’s very important that we deliver two messages. The first message is that we are a fair trading partner. I underline the word fair because that is the language that Mr. Trump is using,” he said. “He’s arguing that he will do fair trading deals with the world but it has to be fair and I think we are a fair trading partner. Our trade is almost in balance.”
Robertson said Canada has a slight surplus, largely on the back of the oil exports which fuels the American manufacturing renaissance Mr. Trump wants to create.
“The second important message that we deliver to the U.S. we are a reliable ally,” he said. “There is a need for Canada for our own reasons to pay more attention to North American security and our contribution to the collective security.”
Robertson said Canada has reaped all the benefits of NAFTA within a decade and, while its renegotiation represents a challenge, it also offers an opportunity for Canada.