U.S. And Canada To Continue Trade Negotiations

Sep 1, 2018
Originally published on September 1, 2018 1:05 pm
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The Trump administration has made its intentions clear about NAFTA. It's told Congress the U.S. will sign a revised trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, if Canada is willing. The U.S. and Canada continue trade negotiations next week. We're joined now by Gordon Ritchie, former Canadian ambassador for trade negotiations. Mr. Ambassador, thanks so much for being with us.

GORDON RITCHIE: My pleasure, and Gordon will be just fine.

SIMON: All right. Well, thank you, Gordon, then. And what do you see as the major sticking points between the U.S. and Canada right now?

RITCHIE: Well, the main sticking point right now is Mr. Trump's determination to be able to impose his will on Canada and brag about it to his electorate. I caught the other night - I guess it was last night - of a speech he gave. And frankly, like most Canadians, I was just shocked at the vitriol. He talked about how those mean Canadians have these enormous trade barriers against imports from the United States, which are depriving Americans of markets in this country.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. We're by far the biggest and best market for American goods and services. We do $2 billion worth of trade every single day. More than 99 percent of that trade comes in duty-free - 99 percent. And in the remainder, the amounts are small, and the balance - the trade balance is in favor of the United States. So frankly, when you have somebody charging at you, saying he wants you to stop beating your horse, and you say, well, I'm not beating my horse - I don't even have a horse - it's a little hard to negotiate.

SIMON: But let me ask - I mean, both President Trump and, for that matter, Prime Minister Trudeau operate within democratic systems, and that means politics. And isn't it just a fact of life that politicians might say one thing, domestically, to fire up their supporters but reach the negotiating table and wind up being reasonable, from your point of view?

RITCHIE: Well, of course. That's what negotiations are really all about. And I went through this back in the days of Ronald Reagan and Jim Baker. And Jim Baker was as tough a negotiator as they come. Yes, of course. But the difference is that we have here - I don't know quite how to put it - a president who, in his public utterances, is completely disconnected from the truth. And that makes it very hard for his negotiators to deal with because he's saying to them, I don't care how you do it. Bring back a head on a platter. And that's not going to happen.

SIMON: Yeah.

RITCHIE: (Laughter) It's just not going to happen.

SIMON: Well - but in the end, isn't some kind of an agreement in the best interests of Canada, whether - whatever their opinion of President Trump and his leadership might be?

RITCHIE: Oh, no, let's be absolutely clear. The obstacle to agreement is not on the Canadian side. The Canadians are perfectly interested in having an agreement to modernize the existing arrangements. And the Canadians are prepared to show flexibility on the crucial issues - quite a lot of flexibility. That's not the problem. The problem is that the American negotiators do not have authority to accept that agreement.

SIMON: I guess what you're suggesting is that there's - whatever the American negotiators think they have negotiated, it could be undercut by President Trump at any moment.

RITCHIE: Well, that's certainly the case. Yesterday, for example, everything was thrown into a bit of a scramble when President Trump's remarks became known in which he said that he was determined not to give an inch to Canada on anything and that if Canada didn't come around, he would slap more punitive tariffs on. The sad thing is it's as if he and his audience don't realize that putting on tariffs penalizes American consumers and producers. (Laughter) It's bizarre.

SIMON: Well, Gordon Ritchie is the former Canadian ambassador for trade negotiations. Mr. Ambassador, Gordon, thank you very much for being with us, sir.

RITCHIE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.