Rivers: We are left with a bad taste on our palates, leaving the question of where do we go from here?

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

October 2nd, 2018



We are left with a bad taste on our palates, leaving the question of where do we go from here?

Just as I predicted. President Trump had called NAFTA the worst trade deal in history – and now it is history. Well in name anyway, though it is essentially intact and newly re-minted as the United States, Mexico, Canada Agreement (USMCA).

Some are calling this eleventh hour agreement a win-win-win. After all Canada has successfully fought off a pre-emptive strike on our time tested agricultural supply management system. Yes, we’ve lost some ground in the ability limit dairy and other sector imports, which will likely result in more American agricultural goods on our shelves. But then supply management was never about trade protectionism – it was about farm income stability.

Trudeau on USMCABut even though we minimized the potential damage, Canada still took another hit to its economic and social sovereignty. And the US appears to won little and lost nothing, compared to where we all were in NAFTA. So we have no reason to be popping champagne corks on this side of the 49th. When the mouse and the elephant take each other to bed, we should understand how it is going to turn out.

But the biggest disappointment was with the process and the negotiating tactics of the other side in this last round. If the illegal tariffs on steel and aluminum were intended to scare us, they did. But the artificial deadlines, threats and verbal abuse were untoward and over the top.

The process came to an end because Trump ran out of time, given the upcoming congressional elections around the corner and so much else on his plate. Otherwise we’d still be in Washington, though never Ottawa nor Mexico City. And the irony is that the US Congress may not even approve the deal, particularly if the Democrats win the House. Though it appears Canada and Mexico will ratify the agreement, even if somewhat reluctantly.

Trump looking hardish at Trudeau

BFF – Best Friends Forever ? President Donald Trump sizing up Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Canada and the USA are supposed to be best of friends with the longest undefended continuous land border anywhere. Our relationship has always been characterized by RESPECT. Even when Nixon was bombing the hell out of Vietnam and Trudeau the senior was criticizing him for that, and allowing American draft dodgers into this country. There was civility between our leaders – despite how they felt about each other in private.

At the end of the day there is no question that the economies of all three nations have benefited from the enhanced trade, if not real free trade, which resulted from NAFTA. Trump’s denial of that reality reflects his ignorance of these matters and is an outright falsehood. But then he lives in that never-never land he calls America First.

His style, behaviour, and his disregard of international diplomacy have cast a pall on what should be a glorious celebration of the renewal of, arguably, the second most successful trading partnership ever (after the EU). And his outlandish bullying of his two closest and natural trading partners has left a bad taste on all of our national palates, leaving the question of where do we go from here? When is the next surprise coming?

The military tactic of divide and conquer is how you fight a war, not re-negotiate a trade deal with your friends. It was an insult to both of his trading partners for them to be treated as vassals. Nobody needs to be told that America’s economy is large, but a breakdown of trade in autos even between Canada and the US would have hurt them too. Was this so-called disastrous NAFTA really that bad a deal for the US, that it survived the terms of three other presidents and has contributed to the current US economic boom?

In the end there will be little difference in the implementation between NAFTA and USMCA. The US gained little so all the fuss was much a do about not much. But Canada and Mexico will have a new perspective when it comes to dealing with their neighbour in the future, or at least the future until Trump is history himself. The America we used to know – the brand we admired for the last century has been damaged, though hopefully not forever.

Trump being laughed at the UN

President Trump pauses while the world laughs at his comments at a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. He wasn’t telling a joke – he was the joke.

Our first trade agreement, the Canada-US deal was negotiated between friends singing about their smiling Irish eyes. But Trump doesn’t have friends. Men are seen as competitors and women as sex objects. It is jokingly said that his closest buddies are Colonel Sanders and Ronald McDonald, though one is dead and the other a cartoon character. But insulting the chief insulter is unhelpful. He doesn’t get it, as when the whole world laughed at him during the ridiculous presentation of his accomplishments at the UN last week.

It is doubtful anyone but North Korea’s Kim would have been able to do a better job than Freeland and Trudeau, negotiating almost thanklessly in that hard place. We didn’t win anything in our transition from NAFTA to USMCA, but at least we didn’t lose much. This entire exercise was about fulfilling a false campaign promise by an out-of-touch wanna-be who miraculously became the most powerful man on earth. For him it’ll always have to be a win-lose-lose.

Rivers hand to faceRay Rivers writes regularly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was once a candidate for provincial office in Burlington.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.   Ray has a post graduate degree in economics that he earned at the University of Ottawa.  Tweet @rayzrivers


Background links:

USMCA –    US View –    Canadian Perspective

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4 comments to Rivers: We are left with a bad taste on our palates, leaving the question of where do we go from here?

  • D.Duck

    Nixon was bombing the hell out of Vietnam and Trudeau the senior was criticizing him for that, and allowing American draft dodgers into this country.

    Trudeau v2.0 should have stood tall like his Father who after being slandered by Nixon said;
    “I have been called worse by better”.

    Trump, unlike Nixon, would not have understood the rebuttal but Trudeau v2.0 would not have had the brains to come up with such a witticism unlike the cerebral Trudeau Sr.

  • Susie

    Oh my, how the Canadian news is all about the U.S.!! Absolutely we do have a multitude of business interactions and dealings with the U.S. and that is greatly received and appreciated to get the scoop on what intertwines with us. The NAFTA talks have been huge and rightfully so for us to keep our minds on that outcome for our future going forward. What gets me is the, stormy Daniels affairs, rocket man, etc. etc. that should not be front and centre of our Canadian content talk shows and newspaper content. We do have enough going on in our own country Canada, that needs the public interest and awareness, that being so glued to the U.S. nonsense that upsets everyone – has to take a step backwards, and cool it. Trump loves all the attention “good or bad” that the world is giving him, and we are guilty for feeding his terrible bedside manners. My thoughts only of course!

  • Fred Pritchard

    What I find interesting is that our own blowhard (Ford) here in Ontario, says he could have gotten a better deal. That is laughable at best because he can’t focus on multiple things at once, just one falsehood per day is his Doug’s limit. So it’s not just Trump who doesn’t have a sense of what is real. However, the scary part is when the boastful liars actually believe the lies they tell, that’s when the public need to worry. If I were the Federal Government, I would ignore the US until after the midterms. Let the sideshow carry on without us involved. I expect the impeachment cries to become louder over the next 6 months. Duck and cover should be the short term plan.

  • Ben Tuinman

    Well said, Ray….agree 100%