Interview: Canadian senator warns of tough and unpredictable NAFTA talks

Source: Xinhua| 2017-08-12 18:06:42|Editor: ZD
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VANCOUVER, Aug. 11 (Xinhua) -- The upcoming renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would be tough and unpredictable, a Canadian senator warned Friday.

"I think we should brace ourselves for a tough negotiation. We should brace ourselves for unforeseen circumstances that could take the negotiations in an unexpected direction, and that's why we have to be as prepared as we possibly can to look out for all of these eventualities." Yuen Pau Woo, who was appointed as an independent to the Canadian Senate last year, told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.

The NAFTA talks scheduled from Aug. 16 to Aug. 20 takes place in Washington D.C., where the trilateral pact between Canada, Mexico and the United States will be reopened at the demands of U.S. President Donald Trump.

The 1994 agreement created what used to be the world's largest free trade area, removed barriers against the passing of goods and workers throughout the three nations, and set up an independent trade dispute-settlement process.

However, Trump called NAFTA the worst trade deal of all time during his presidential campaign, and blasted it for reducing American productivity and sending away well-paying jobs.

"I don't want to get into the mind of Donald Trump, but his motivation is not dissimilar to the underlying problem that's facing many Western industrialized countries," Woo said.

"There is a large group of citizens in most, if not all, western industrialized countries that have seen their wages and employment and general welfare stagnate over the years, despite economic growth for the economy as a whole." Woo noted.

The Canadian government has been quiet about its objectives and strategies in advance of next week's talks, and observers like Woo can only speculate about what the first round has in store.

"Negotiations involve tradeoffs, so there will have to be some give on the part of Canada, which translates into more barriers ... or concessions that will have ... perhaps negative impacts on the Canadian economy," he said. "But by the same token, we will be asking for concessions from the Americans and from the Mexicans as well."

Woo pointed out that Canadians need to expect the unexpected. Political bluster coming from Trump could impact the talks, depending on how directly involved the president becomes in them.

"If it's left to the negotiators, I think there is a relatively sophisticated understanding of the mutual benefits of trade," he said. "They of course have to answer to the platform and the demands of the president that were articulated during the campaign, so there will be a toughness in the American position."

Trump and his supporters reflect an anger with NAFTA, and that means Canada has to look elsewhere for trading opportunities, Woo noted.

"That surely has to mean more trade, more investment, more economic exchanges with Asian countries," he added.

That said, the United States remain Canada's most important trading partner by far. Bilateral trade in goods between the two countries surpassed 544 billion U.S. dollars in 2016, according to U.S. census figures.

"We shouldn't throw up our hands in despair and give up on the relationship. Nobody is saying that," Woo said. "We should put the utmost attention to negotiating the best possible deal, explaining to the Americans why the NAFTA agreement, and even further opening of markets, is good for them, as well as good for us."