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The Exchange

Canada Concerned Over U.S. Tone in NAFTA Talks

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In the nearly quarter century since NAFTA was enacted, trade has tripled among the three partners of the North American Free Trade Agreement: U.S., Mexico, and Canada.  And bilateral trade between Canada and New England has reached nearly $11 billion.

That’s according to David Alward, Boston-based Consul General of Canada, who joined The Exchange to discuss the impact of NAFTA on the region and the status of NAFTA meetings now underway in Washington.  The sixth round of talks will take place in Montreal in January.   

Although President Trump has called NAFTA a “horrible deal” for the U.S. and has threatened to pull out of the agreement, for now, at least, the U.S. is participating in talks.  

Alward represents Canada in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.  

“For the five states, the No. 1 partner is Canada. For most states, if not all, No. 2 is Mexico. So we are very integrated. Just in New Hampshire, there are about 100 Canadian-owned companies with more than 5,000 people from New Hampshire working for those companies. There are more than 400,000 jobs in New England that are the result of trade and investment with Canada. And Canada benefits in the very same way, as well.”

Alward said NAFTA needs modernizing and Canada is looking for a more progressive and inclusive agreement.

“Some of the proposals Canada has brought forward would bring in gender equality as labor standards … we believe there should be a chapter on the environment, a chapter on indigenous peoples, as well. We think about labor mobility as another issue today that is vital to regions, whether it be regions of Canada or within the U.S. and Mexico.

Just in New England I’ve heard Governors Baker and Sununu very recently both speaking to issues around labor mobility and the importance of those being addressed long term for competitiveness of our companies and our regions.”

But, Alward said, “Canada is very concerned and troubled at the approach and tone of the U.S. They have put extreme proposals on the table. To give one example: a five-year sunset clause. Really, no business can function or plan in that environment.  This and other proposals are non-starters for Canada."

In New Hampshire, unions and free-trade supporters tend to see NAFTA’s impact in starkly different terms when it comes to jobs.

Here is Matthew Beck, business representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in New Hampshire and Maine:  

“By and large, NAFTA has been a disaster for working people in New Hampshire. People haven’t seen a pay increase in years and can’t find better-paying jobs in part because of trade deals like NAFTA. Instead of leveling the playing field, NAFTA made it easier for companies to outsource jobs to Mexico so they can pay employees less. Since NAFTA, Mexico’s already low wages are down 9 percent; U.S. wages are flat, while the price of everything has risen.

Unless we can rewrite NAFTA in a way that helps New Hampshire’s working people, NAFTA will keep giving the green light to corporations to outsource American jobs and push down wages for everybody in the U.S.  Since NAFTA and the World Trade Agreement of 1995, New Hampshire has lost more than 22,000 manufacturing jobs.”

Dawn Wivell, CEO of Firebrand International and former director of international trade for New Hampshire sees it differently:  

“Canada is our No. 1 trading partner; and Mexico is No. 2.  Just under one quarter of our exports -- maybe 22 percent or so -- go to those two markets.

Exports are very important to New Hampshire’s economy. We are I believe the sixth state in concentration of exports, so we’re actually very export dependent, sustaining about 180,000 plus jobs.  It touches almost everybody’s job. And typically export-related jobs pay about 11 percent more than non-export-related jobs.  A good example is the aerospace sector; that’s our No. 1 export to Canada and it’s a very important part of our industry base in New Hampshire, and it’s absolutely booming. Our exports to Mexico just in aerospace have skyrocketed in the last year."

Still, Wivell and Beck do have some common ground. Both agree that NAFTA has done a poor job of enforcing labor and environmental standards.  

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