Since the newly elected President in U.S.A. has taken office, he still seems to want to move away from the North American Free Trade Agreement.  Concerned about what this may lead to in terms of lost exports for Canadian companies and lost jobs for Canadians, Senator Tobias C. Enverga Jr., a member of the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce, asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs what the government is doing to ensure that our interests are protected.

North American Free Trade Agreement

Hon. Tobias C. Enverga, Jr.: Minister, my question for you today concerns the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Hon. Chrystia Freeland, P.C., M.P, Minister of Foreign Affairs: I’m familiar with that.

Senator Enverga: In his press conference with the Prime Minister last month, President Trump stated:

We have a very outstanding trade relationship with Canada. We’ll be tweaking it.

While some in Canada may have breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing those words, it remains to be seen just what the new U.S. administration’s plans are for renegotiating NAFTA. President Trump might have a very different take on what constitutes a tweak of our trade relationship than Canada would. We also believe that any tweak could affect our production and could make products more expensive. Minister, my question is: Has the Government of Canada received any indication from the Government of the United States as to how NAFTA will be tweaked?

Second, in your meetings with new U.S. counterparts, have specific issues been raised with you or other ministers that have provided a hint as to what may be on the table — for example, our system of supply management?

Ms. Freeland: Thank you very much for the question. As I’m sure you’re aware, senator, in my mandate letter, the Prime Minister instructed me to have overall responsibility for the Canada-U.S. relationship, very much including our economic relationship. It is a file on which I am intensely focused. I am very aware of its importance to the well-being of every single Canadian. I want to assure everyone in this chamber that the government is extremely focused on the Canada-U.S. relationship.

I believe that we have a strong Team Canada approach in this country. I wish to recognize the supportive role of Rona Ambrose, the Leader of the Official Opposition. She has been to Washington and is very supportive of the general Canadian approach. Last week, I had a meeting with labour leaders and have been meeting often with different industry groups.

It is quite heart-warming for me to witness the patriotic spirit with which I feel all Canadians are approaching this issue, and we’re going to have to maintain that approach because it is a core issue for our country.

On the specifics, only last week, I believe, the new Secretary of Commerce was confirmed. I learned today that the confirmation hearing of the USTR, I believe, according to a news report, is set for next week. I have not yet, obviously, had meetings with the USTR. He is not yet confirmed. I will be speaking to Secretary Ross in the coming days, but, before measures were finalized, it was not possible to have an official conversation.

According to the U.S. Trade Promotion Authority, which governs how the U.S. administration can approach this issue, there is a 90-day notice period inside the United States before any negotiation can begin. That 90-day period has not yet been triggered by the United States. So we are still some distance away from an official conversation.

Having said that, of course, our economic relationship with the United States came up in my meeting with Secretary Tillerson, in my meetings with senators, in my meeting with Speaker Ryan. It was very much the subject of conversation in our White House meetings. The point that we are really emphasizing as Canadians in our conversations with the U.S. administration, but also with U.S. legislators, is that Canada and the United States have a balanced, mutually beneficial trading relationship. Canada is the chief export market for the majority of U.S. states. It’s in the top three export markets for 48 U.S. states.

We’re a neighbour and a friend, but for America we’re also a client and 9 million U.S. jobs depend directly on Canada. I think as Canadians we are all familiar with the reality that we think about and focus a lot more on the United States than Americans perhaps focus on us. The onus is on us to work hard explaining to Americans and to this new administration the strength, importance and the balanced nature of that trading relationship. That is something that our whole of government — I have very strong support from all my ministerial colleagues — and I personally have been doing really energetically. I do know that the Senate has also been engaged in that effort.

If I may, I would like to recruit all the senators in this house to be part of that team Canada approach. It would be great if everybody here could make a trip to the United States, talk to your counterparts. They love senators; it’s true. They know you’re important, Senator Harder. It’s very important. That legislator- to-legislator outreach is incredibly important. The Senate has real power in the United States in moving this forward, and helping Americans understand this trading relationship at a granular level is very important.

I saw Speaker Ryan twice in the course of a week because I had meetings in Washington. I saw him, and then I saw him with the Prime Minister. I pointed out to him that his specific congressional district exports a billion dollars’ worth to Canada. That figure really stuck in his mind. He was struck by the size of that and also by the fact that we had gone to the trouble to figure out how much his district sold to Canada. This is an effort that I hope all of Canada’s legislators can be part of.

As a final point on NAFTA, it’s worth appreciating that trade agreements are living documents. They are evergreen, and they have to be because the nature of the economy is constantly changing and evolving. By Canada’s count, there have been 11 major modifications to NAFTA since it entered into force. It is not an unusual practice to be modernizing and updating NAFTA.

Our trade negotiators are the best in the world. We have an outstanding team and I think all of us, in our capacity as legislators, can be part of the effort to explain to Americans, to American decision makers, to business people, to labour people, how that economic relationship is mutually beneficial.