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Canadian Officials Say The Unwinding Of NAFTA Is Not Their Biggest Trade Concern


Well, why don't we get a perspective from someone in Canada right now? Rona Ambrose is a former leader of the Conservative Party in Canada and is now a member of the prime minister's NAFTA Advisory Council. She joins us from Calgary. Welcome.

RONA AMBROSE: Thank you.

CHANG: So what has it been like in recent weeks watching these talks unfold while Canada has been on the sidelines?

AMBROSE: Well, it's funny because if you're close to the talks, like I am, you know that there is a purpose for Mexico and the U.S. to engage on some of these issues, like the auto sector. But of course, a lot of the chatter here in Canada is, why have we been left out? Is there something happening that we don't know about? You know, are they having a secret meeting? Is Mexico going to throw us under the bus?

So there's been all kinds of speculation about, you know, are we going to be pushed into a corner when Mexico and the U.S. come back into the room? And that's a bit of a feeling that's happening right now - that now that Mexico and the U.S. are back with an agreement in principle, if you want to call it that, you know, Canada is now coming to the table to basically agree to something that's already been agreed to.

So we're in a tougher position. And now it's really about seeing if what has been agreed to is amenable to the Canadians. And to be frank, there is a lot of good stuff in there, so I'm quite optimistic...


AMBROSE: ...That we'll be able to come to some kind of agreement in the next little while.

CHANG: The question is how long will it take? I mean, how seriously does Canada take President Trump's threat that the U.S. will unwind NAFTA if Canada can't reach a new deal in time?

AMBROSE: Well, I think we've all done enough of the work and reading and analysis because this is a huge issue for us here in Canada. I mean, we are a small country, and we are a trading nation, and we need NAFTA. There is no doubt about that. So everyone has been seized with this in the business community and the wider community in Canada.

So we know enough to know that Trump just can't unwind NAFTA. We know that. We understand how Congress works. We know it would take a lot of time. There would be a lot of opposition to it in different corners of your country.

But what is hanging over our heads is not so much the unwinding of NAFTA. It's President Trump's threat to impose auto tariffs on the Canadian auto sector. And he could do that in as close to a few weeks from now.

CHANG: And I'm assuming you're taking that threat pretty seriously because President Trump's follow-through on previous threats, like tariffs on steel and aluminum.

AMBROSE: Yes, we are taking the threat of auto tariffs really seriously because he has followed through on every one of his threats he's made to several of our industrial sectors. When President Trump first threatened to impose tariffs on Canadian aluminum and steel, we thought there's no way he's going to do this. I mean, the U.S. is our largest importer of Canadian aluminum and steel, and you need that to build all kinds of products in the United States. And yet he did it anyway.

And so in our thinking process, we think this is an irrational guy. So when he says, we're going to impose auto tariffs on the Canadian auto sector, and a lot of analysts say, oh, there's no way he's going to do that because it'll also impact the U.S. auto sector, we've started to believe that - you know what? - when this guy makes a threat, he follows through.

CHANG: You've learned your lesson with him.

AMBROSE: We've learned our lesson. And we're worried because if he does impose these auto tariffs, which is 25 percent on all cars going into the United States from Canada, it would devastate the Canadian economy.

CHANG: Is it odd to you to have such contentious trade talks with the U.S., since these two countries - Canada and the U.S. - have traditionally been friendly neighbors and major trading partners?

AMBROSE: Well, trade negotiations are always very tough. And Canada and the U.S. have had trade irritants. And supply management, softwood lumber have been trade irritants for over a hundred years. So it's not unusual that we fight over some of these things that go back-and-forth and affect our economies and our trading relationship.

What's different is that we have a president that puts everything out there on the Twittersphere and has ramped up the rhetoric in a way. I mean, even calling our prime minister dishonest. I mean, this level of rhetoric and politicization of trade negotiations no one has ever seen before. But we see that with President Trump when he deals with the EU and Germany. I mean, he's doing it with China. He did it with South Korea. He's done it with everyone he's talking trade with.

So we're not surprised about it. But I guess I should rephrase that. I think we're surprised that he does it with us because we think that we're better friends than China...

CHANG: That you deserve better.

AMBROSE: ...Or even the EU - that we, maybe, deserve a little better.

CHANG: What would you say to President Trump in this moment if you had the chance?

AMBROSE: I would say, I think you got what you wanted, which is a good agreement on autos. And at the end of the day, NAFTA really is about - it originated and was born in an auto pact. This is good for auto workers in the United States. I think you got what you wanted. So instead of having a protracted drawn-out fight with your best friend, let's move on. Let's come to an agreement and move on.

CHANG: Rona Ambrose is a member of Canada's NAFTA Advisory Council. Thank you very much.

AMBROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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