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Canadian Premiers Eager for NAFTA Negotiations to Begin

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WASHINGTON – A group of seven Canadian premiers on Thursday expressed eagerness to get the U.S. and Mexico to the NAFTA negotiating table, while the elected leader of Manitoba warned against American bullying tactics.

President Trump repeatedly blasted the 23-year-old trade agreement with Mexico and Canada during his bid for the White House, suggesting that the pact needed to be severely updated or eliminated altogether. The administration has since softened its stance, announcing plans to modernize the agreement.

The seven premiers agreed that the trade deal needs to be updated, but Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said that all three partners need to understand the fundamentals and rules of international trade. He said he has witnessed U.S. bullying tactics firsthand, which has hurt industry in Canada. He argued that NAFTA has resulted in great wealth creation for all three members, but said there are dangers in not understanding the fundamentals.

“Interdependence is not a weakness. The trade agreements we’ve been a part of are not about win-lose. They’re about win-win, so we need to make NAFTA great again,” Pallister said at the Wilson Center. “I’ve seen people bully in negotiations, and I don’t take kindly to that. … If we want to grow, we need to understand that we’ll grow better together, far more rapidly, in an era of slow growth, than we will if we let bad habits enter the picture again.”

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant noted that 90 percent of exports from his province – including large amounts of softwood lumber and seafood – go to the United States. Nova Scotia does about $5.2 billion in trade annually, 71 percent of which is done with the U.S. And about 70 percent of total exports from Prince Edward Island – including potato products, lobsters, mussels and oysters — go to the America.

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver stressed that Canada’s most important relationship is the one it has with the U.S. He added that what’s good for the Yukon is good for Alaska, describing it as a microcosm for the U.S.-Canada relationship as a whole.

“Our families are interconnected, our economies are interconnected, and in order to grow the capitalistic model on an international basis, it’s so important that we modernize NAFTA, that we keep what works in NAFTA and work on those other issues, as well,” Silver said.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said that Canadian leaders are not opposed to re-evaluating NAFTA, but he suggested the deal get done swiftly – and “not on the front page of the Washington Post.”

“Let’s modernize it. Change is not bad. Let’s look at the opportunities for our respective countries. We know, we should know, that our economies are integrated, that our countries require each other,” he said.

Though other premiers agreed with McNeil’s assessment that the deal should get done quickly, Pallister disagreed, again harping on the need for a negotiation that is based on fairness for all sides, regardless of pace. The Manitoba premier used several sports metaphors to describe the situation.

“If you’re going to be wrestling, and you’re going to wrestle a sumo wrestler – do you want rules or not? Ask yourself that, because it’s very important we have rules-based trade,” he said.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball, who represents a province heavily involved in seafood exports and the oil and gas industry, said that Canada is ready to come to the table.

“We are not afraid to negotiate a new, modernized NAFTA,” he said.

The premiers agreed that they cannot envision a situation where NAFTA will be eliminated altogether, given the benefits for all partners. NAFTA negotiations can begin in August, at the earliest.