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Playing NAFTA hardball prudent planning

Posted on August 30, 2017 by Taber Times

It must be a matter of some consternation for President Donald Trump that following his contentious election victory, the populist steamroller he plowed into the heartland of America has largely ran out of gas.

Swaying the votes of swooning young neo-cons, enchanting the pants off alt-righters, and managing to bamboozle enough of the all-important swing vote seemed like old hat to the reality-TV real estate romancer. Winning the election — considering the dismal record of achievements and scandal his administration has posted since — would appear to have been the easy part.

That finely-coiffed comb-over, on the other hand, is hard work. And image over substance is right in Trump’s wheelhouse. What his team of stylists can’t achieve for him is the actual gritty, low-down, but necessary business of government, that part of the job that can’t be glossed over with witty catch-phrases and 20-second soundbites.

Surprising for Trump to discover, then, that the business of government is actually hard work, that requires effort and dedication, rather than more petty nastiness dished out through the social media improv club. No number of provocative Tweets about controversial issues is going to cover up Trump’s own failings as a leader. Making more and more flamboyant claims and promises on the campaign trail doesn’t make these claims any more achievable in the harsh light of reality post election.

One of these promises, as it turns out, was NAFTA, or the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump had as much as promised to shatter into a thousand pieces during the election campaign. This past week, Trump took to the Twitter-wire to whine about Canada and Mexico being “very difficult” in NAFTA renegotiations, as well as spitting out what is quickly becoming classic Trump — an ill-considered and insulting threat — to terminate the agreement altogether.

Setting aside for a moment that an abrupt termination of NAFTA is likely to do as much damage to the American economy as it will to Canada’s and Mexico’s — suggesting the threat is little more than heated rhetoric from an overly-swelled melon — the president conveniently seems to forget it was his administration that demanded a renegotiation, not the other way around.

Did they really expect the Canadians and Mexicans to be bent over a barrel while the Trump negotiating team spirited away every concession without objection? Apparently, because as soon as the Americans met even token resistance to their agreement goals, we hear Trump weighing in with threats and criticism. Of course everything we’re demanding is justified — it’s justified because we’re demanding it.

Unfortunately, this is sometimes part of the American condition, and Trump is one of the main purveyors of what is often termed as an “Amerocentric” attitude. At times it appears to us outside that legislators and politicians from that country have great difficulty in understanding that what is good for America might not always be good for Canada, or Mexico, or Latin America, or even the world — at least in our view. This oppositional attitude appears to baffle many, who seem dumbfounded that anyone — including the people of other sovereign nations — could possibly believe that what is in the best interests of America is not in the best interest of all.

As distasteful as that might seem at times, we have largely gotten used to this modern exemplification of manifest destiny. But while American attitudes on trade are one thing, walking the legal tightrope of black-letter law might be something else entirely. Trade law experts have suggested that eviscerating NAFTA would be exceedingly difficult and could prompt a Mexican stand-off between the White House and Congress, which had originally passed a law implementing NAFTA independent from the executive.

In the end it may be the case of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. Many involved with the negotiations at the state and provincial level have publicly suggested the talks are moving forward positively, and more tactfully that they don’t care what the president is babbling about today out in the Twitter-sphere. Canadians, on the other hand, should be pleased that our negotiators aren’t willing to hand over the keys to the trade kingdom to the Trump regime just because he complains about it on social media. The concessions that might be forked over by a less-forceful negotiating team are guaranteed to have economic implications for Canada’s economy for decades to come.

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