After four rounds of talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), considerable progress has been made in consolidating more than half the Nafta text. But participants at the Toronto Global Forum expressed many concerns about the prospects for successfully concluding the renegotiation.

“There have been troubling proposals from the US side, which would like to set a five-year sunset clause on Nafta, and to eliminate Chapter 19 on dispute settlement,” said Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland. “The proposals don’t make a lot of sense to the business community which values above all certainty and stability”.

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“We take every opportunity to remind our US partners that Canada is the US’s largest market, and is a bigger market than Japan, China and the UK combined. And the US has a trade surplus for goods and services with Canada,” she  emphasised.

In reflecting on the anti-trade sentiment in the US, Tom Linebarger, chairman and CEO of Cummins, the world’s largest independent maker of diesel engines and related products, remarked that “while trade is win-win, our workforce in the US believes that trade is not beneficial to them – we have not done a good job in communicating to them the benefits of trade”.

Jim Barber, president, UPS International, added that “trade did not lift all boats equally, and we need to help displaced workers, especially through training and education”.  For his part, Mark D. Wiseman, global head of active equities, at BlackRock, argued that “trade and technological change are creating well-founded fears. We must assist those who are left behind, while recognising that some of these people may never again find another job.”

Ailish Campbell, chief trade commissioner and assistant deputy minister, Global Affairs Canada, struck a positive note when she highlighted Canada’s leadership in the area of “inclusive trade”. This approach focusses on the quality of trade deals, through enabling small and medium-sized enterprises to access markets, notably through e-commerce.