Posts Tagged ‘NAFTA’

A travesty of travellers.

Friday, November 10th, 2017

The dynamic duo of Trump and Trudeau are meeting in south-east Asia this weekend. Neither has the other on their agenda. And neither has a similar agenda. They have different needs and different objectives.

U.S. President Donald Trump has the shortest list to match his short memory. His top-of-mind concern is North Korea. He is looking for answers and he is seeking support. He has already pressed the critical players such as the Chinese, Japanese and South Koreans. At the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit in Da Nang, he will have all the side players including Vladimir Putin of Russia.

Trump will use his heavy-handed approach to try to get the lesser players in the Asia-Pacific area to strengthen their resolve to sanction North Korea. We will hope he gets more co-operation there than he seems to have gotten from China’s Xi Jinping. If we got one impression from the footage sent back from the meetings between the two leaders in China, we would say that Mr. Xi’s expression was not inscrutable: it bordered on boredom. If we have noted one thing about the Chinese leader over the years, it is that he does not suffer fools. Putting up with Trump is a lot to ask of a guy.

And since President Trump has already given APEC the finger in rejecting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), it is not on his agenda. That is despite the TPP having the possible geopolitical effect of drawing the signatories away from China’s influence and into the American sphere,

Nor is TPP seemingly on Prime Minister Trudeau’s agenda. He is stalling. Trudeau is trying to influence a more environmentally friendly and human rights based agreement. He will sign fast enough if and when Trump dumps the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) but until then Trudeau can play to the bleachers.

Just where the East Asia Summit in the Philippines fits into everyone’s agenda is not clear. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will have a special request for President Trump to return of the Balangiga Bells to the Catholic church in the Philippines. And if you want to know what the heck that is about, you can look it up on the Internet. (And if you believe what you read, remember that history is written by the victors.)

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

The Hair harasses NAFTA hopefuls.

Monday, November 6th, 2017

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is still on life support. The end of his first year in office and President Donald Trump has not yet ended the more than US$ one trillion in trade between the three countries. Maybe he was waiting for some help from critics of the Canadian Prime Minister to help him make his case for canceling.

The ally, he must have been waiting for was The Hair: Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Not that we would recommend the Hair for successful trade negotiations. His help in these circumstances is to pour oil on an already tense situation. The Americans are making outrageous demands on our negotiators and Harper tells clients of his consulting firm that the Trudeau Liberals are too quick to reject some of the demands. It should be noted that Harper never completed a successful free trade agreement—he kept claiming the European Community Agreement was completed but it was only finalized after the Liberals took over in Ottawa.

The Hair actually complains that Canada is aligning itself too closely to Mexico to the consternation of the Americans. (Maybe he has never heard the old adage about divide and conquer.)

And true to his extremist right-wing principles, Harper claims that Canada is wrong to put labour rights on the table along with such subjects as gender equality and Indigenous rights and concerns for environmental protection. Obviously, he seems to consider these unimportant matters.

A commentator such as myself is expected to take pot shots at those negotiating NAFTA for us but it is considered very bad manners for a previous Prime Minister. And when you consider that Trudeau even hired former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to help out with the negotiations, it gives you an idea of the seriousness with which the situation is being handled.

Mind you, it is obvious that nobody thought of calling on Harper to help with the current negotiations. This is the guy who bickered with President Obama over the Keystone XL pipeline through the United States. As soon as Trump was in office, he put out an executive order telling TransCanada to build its Keystone pipeline. Mind you, it is likely that it will never be completed under today’s oil economics.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Does Donald Trump even like America?

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

If President Donald Trump takes any pride in the United States of America, he has a funny way of showing it. Did he run for the presidency as a joke or to get even? Maybe he was tired of being considered a joke? In his ignorance, Trump is giving the bird (as only a New Yorker can) to America’s two best customers and friends. You might think that is stupid. I might think it is stupid. What it can be is also a long-delayed reality for America’s friends.

Trump is trying to bully America’s two best customers over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The two countries combine to buy more than a third of America’s exports. If Trump thinks this is a bad deal, nobody has explained to him what it means in terms of the balance of payments. He is setting a phenomenal record as the first person in the world to gamble US$500 billion. And that is just the goods sold each year.

He insults the intelligence of Canadians. To Mexicans, he adds racial slurs. It will take a long time for Americans to repair the harm Trump is doing in race relations with many peoples.

Trump seems to be oblivious to the trade deal Canada has already arranged with the European Union, the ongoing relationship with the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth and the ease with which Canada can make deals in Asia.

And if Trump starts to play fast and loose with the automotive sector, he will find himself in more trouble with the automobile companies and their unions than he has ever expected. It would be very interesting to know what those companies intend to do if they are faced with drawing back all manufacturing to the U.S. Would Americans stand back and be quiet as Trump bankrupts General Motors?

But for Canadians, this is not only a wake-up call but a new-found freedom. Up-front, Canada can save a billion dollars in not twinning that bridge at Detroit. Niagara Falls, Ontario can have its own outlet malls for price cutting on European and Canadian goods that Americans cannot resist. The best price winter holidays for Canadians will be in the south of France and Spain and for a little more, there are the Greek Islands.

While Canada could take a hit as hard as 2.5 per cent of gross domestic product in the first year without NAFTA, there would be a long line of American manufacturers wanting to bring some of their manufacturing plants back to Canada to take advantage of relations with markets in Asia and Europe. Trump can have his introverted Buy America, Canadians can sell to the world.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Curating the consensus of the crowd.

Saturday, October 28th, 2017

It is most unlikely that Maude Barlow and the membership of the Council of Canadians see Canada’s future as being a pastoral society. It just appears by the collective’s recent policy consensus that this is what they want. What it might be telling us is that Maude’s days as curator for the Council could be numbered. It needs more of the strength and determination she brought to the movement back in the 1980s and 90s.

It is hardly that I disagree with any of the priorities selected by the membership. The problem is that they have selected principles over actions. Of the five top priorities of the membership there was only one pro-active item. National Pharmacare is long overdue and we should have pushed it through in the 1960s when our national politicians were still listening to us.

But the rest are platitudes. The care of our lakes and rivers is automatic and motherhood. You can get that from the Green Party, and nothing much else. Deals such as the Nestlé water grab are a matter of some serious talk with the politicians. Pipelines for bitumen from the tar sands are anathema to anyone who gives a damn about the environment.

But then you have to clear the collective’s head on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). To fix NAFTA, you have to know what clauses and how you are going to fix them. You cannot just say you are going to protect people’s jobs. Why would you do that? Free trade is designed to get around that old, out-dated attitude. The way to handle that problem is to save the other guy’s workers. You do not tell him to get rid of child workers, you make him send them to school. You make sure nobody is being exploited. You have to be assured that all workers’ rights are safe-guarded. Then you have a level ground for your trade agreement.

Think about it: who is President Trump really protecting when he talks about an unfair NAFTA? Is he speaking of protecting the hourly-wage worker or the profits of his corporate cronies?

In a business career working with computer companies, I never saw computer automation replace a human worker that did not open up two better, more challenging jobs. The attitude should always be: if your job can be done better by a machine, it should be.

But you hardly need to worry about automation and trade deals in a pastoral society. Our Council of Canadians need to get out and tend their sheep.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Trump stands steadfast, Justin.

Friday, October 13th, 2017

Prime Minister Trudeau dropped in to the White House to see President Trump the other day. It is likely that two minutes after Trudeau left the Oval Office, Donald Trump had forgotten what they had said. It is not just that the man has a short attention span but he has absolutely no interest in what the Canadian wants. He is stuck in the tangles of his own agenda.

It is like his wall. All he wants to do is build a wall across the southern border of the United States to keep out the Mexicans who, he thinks, want to take the jobs of loyal Americans. And he hardly wants to worry about who is going to pay for the wall at this stage. He wants to build the wall and figure out how to get the Mexicans to pay for it later.

Or take Obamacare. The poor guy cannot even negotiate a deal to get rid of Obamacare. He just cannot understand why these elected politicos in Congress are so reluctant to deprive millions of Americans of their only chance for medical programs?

And, not being a politician, Trump has no understanding of how to weasel out of political promises you cannot keep. Justin Trudeau could tell him how—he is getting some practice at that himself lately.

Trump said on the platform throughout that awful campaign of 2016 that he was going to end the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The people who were supporting Trump were too ignorant to know that the trade deal benefitted America, lowered prices and created jobs. They saw it as a threat to jobs for Americans and moving them off-shore. So, Trump promised to Kill NAFTA for them and they roared their approval.

But Trump has no clear way to end NAFTA, Under the terms of the agreement, there is a six months clause to a cancellation but American law does not make it clear how this can be done. NAFTA was approved by Congress more than 25 years ago and Congress is not about to let Donald Trump usurp their authority. Whether Congress controls the agreement or the American President can unilaterally cancel it could end up being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Justin Trudeau’s father once made some remarks in Washington about Canada-U.S. relations being similar to sleeping with an elephant. Donald Trump has turned out to be a nightmare.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

How’s the kitchen coming Chrystia?

Friday, September 8th, 2017

Though not sure if the analogy of NAFTA negotiations being like renovating a kitchen comes from Canada’s foreign minister, by now she would disown the quote anyway. After meetings in Washington and in Mexico City, it is obvious that the discussions of North America’s trade agreements are going nowhere. By the time the three amigo countries get together in Ottawa there is likely to be a fist fight.

It seems that nobody is in a position to save this screw-up. History is going to have to remember Donald Trump as a master of disaster. He has sent American negotiators on an impossible task. They really cannot win agreement from people by constantly abusing them. The Mexicans are certainly mad as hell and are not going to take it anymore.

Canada is hardly going to allow our dairy farmers to be screwed the same way American dairy farmers are routinely bankrupted. And that fixed smirk on the face of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when people mention Trump is starting to look like a death mask. The Mexicans are already pissed by Trump’s racist insults and his stupid wall.

But the Mexicans are also becoming annoyed with Canada. While the U.S. delegates simply scoff at Freeland’s environmental protection and balanced labour suggestions, the Mexican’s saw it as an attack on their labour-cost advantage. This is a three-way, two against one negotiation, when both Canada and Mexico could use an ally. Instead, they are all talking and nobody is listening.

There is no rule that says we have to resolve these questions this year or even three years from now. It would certainly be nice to find a faster solution to the softwood lumber dispute and Canada might have to apply some tit-for-tat tariffs if Trump thinks he can just ignore the existing treaties.

But an angry American Congress might have something to say if Trump tries to end NAFTA. Congress is confident that only it has the authority to accept or reject country to country treaties when the U.S. is one of the parties.

The one thing the three countries might agree on is that NAFTA needs some adjustments after a quarter century. It just cannot be as one-sided as Mr. Trump thinks it should be.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Justin Trudeau doesn’t have the chops.

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

It is often amusing when Canadian writers try to compare Prime Minister Trudeau with American President Trump. They seem to think that Justin Trudeau has been understudying for his current role all his life, while Donald Trump is an accidental politician and is only now learning that the job requires some serious time and attention.

What most observers do not see is that Trudeau is the dilettante. He is not as adept as Trump would be if the American ever exercised some discipline.

Trudeau is the bugle boy without the chops. Trump is the bully boy, angered at his own clumsiness. And it hardly helps that Trump is almost twice Trudeau’s age.

They are both products of their families. Trump honoured his father by taking over the family development business and carrying on in his sire’s tradition. Only at his father’s funeral did we realize that Justin had political ambitions. And only when we first saw him working political gatherings did we see the future of those ambitions.

There is no suggestion that Justin is like his father. He is not. He is definitely his mother’s son. Trump’s father must have been a mean son-of-a-bitch because his son so easily earns that sobriquet.

The Trudeau-Trump relationship is another matter. It is unlikely that either of them likes the other. Trudeau is probably very wary of Trump and inclined to stay away from him. Trump would see the Canadian as a pretty boy and an easy mark. If he had a building to sell, he would offer Trudeau an option.

But Trump’s assumptions about Trudeau and his government are wrong when it comes to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). His bullying tactics hardly fit negotiations such as are required in international trade agreements. This is not a contest to see who can negotiate the best deal for their country. It is to see if they can negotiate a deal that can be sold to the citizens of the countries involved. Trade negotiations have to be win-win. Trump does not understand that.

And what Trump hardly understands is that he cannot threaten to dump NAFTA, like he did again the other evening in Phoenix, and then expect his negotiating team to do their job properly.

Trump shows his lack of self-confidence with his repeated campaign-type rallies. He just keeps on making Trudeau look good by comparison.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Plan B: Tell Trump to Get Stuffed.

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

Watching a Canadian cabinet minister being interviewed on the weekend was almost painful. Despite the goading of the interviewer, he refused to say exactly what he thought of the stance by American President Trump on North American trade. Like most Canadians, he would probably like to have the opportunity to tell the American President to get stuffed.

But we know he cannot do that. While it is obvious that Mr. Trump is mouthing off to hear himself sound important, it would be foolish to respond in kind. Countries deal with their international relations with diplomacy, the fact that Trump does not understand that not withstanding.

Nor is it the role of Canadian politicians to tell the American President the facts that he could get from his own trade officials. Trump’s knowledge of the facts of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) seem deliberately limited. It might even surprise him to learn that Canadians are frustrated with some aspects of the trade deal. That is why dispute resolution takes up more than a few pages in the agreement.

And it is why the recently imposed softwood lumber tariffs are a just a form of harassment. This is the fourth time they have been imposed and they are just as likely to be dismissed again this time as they were previously. Lately China has been recognizing the opportunity to buy Canadian lumber and that looks like a more reliable market.

In all of the complaints we have heard from Trump’s White House, the lack of facts or understanding of the issues are apparent. He is playing to his audience of poor ignorant Americans who think he is doing this for them. He is not.

His threatening to end NAFTA immediately is about as dumb as the blokes in the United Kingdom who thought they could cut themselves off from the European Union overnight. Taking down NAFTA would take a lot longer than even the six months required in the agreement. It would take several years to sort out the earlier Auto Pact that became a key part of NAFTA—without bankrupting Ford and General Motors.

In his first 100 days, Donald Trump has proved he is ignorant, boorish and unsuited to be president of the most powerful nation on earth. His threat to unilaterally scrap NAFTA could cause the beginnings of a world-wide recession. That would be in nobody’s best interest.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Donald Trump has a plan?

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

Heard any good conspiracy theories today? It is amazing how many pundits are writing about Trump’s real plans for world-wide dictatorship. They see Trump’s actions in the White House as part of a scheme. They think it is designed to keep outsiders confused.

But it should be obvious to everybody that Trump is the one who is confused. He is erratic, unprepared, unaware and badly advised. And if you can figure the conspiracy in that, good luck!

Just look at those decrees that he so grandiosely pens in the Oval Office. They are a sham. They are window dressing for his supporters to show that he is working for them. He could save time by sending the presidential decrees to the courts for vetting. Most make no sense. The ones that the departments try to implement such as the restrictions on Muslims coming to America are basically racist and cause nothing but problems.

And the promises he made to squash Obamacare were blocked in Congress by his own Republican Tea Party supporters. How he expects to get his budget passed might be the most serious problem he will ever face. He would need a new book on the art of the deal for that.

Judging from what we have seen so far, Trump’s idea of getting things done is to be the bully who shouts the loudest.

His version of foreign affairs is to trade insults with the crazies of North Korea and hold hands with the British Prime Minister. Now the poor lady is facing an election and that interaction with Trump could cost her job.

Justin Trudeau of Canada also had a friendly meeting with Trump and Canada has been dumped on ever since. Trump thinks it is Canada’s fault that the steroid-fed cows of Wisconsin are producing too much milk. Or maybe he thinks supply management is something his wife does when she is mad at him. Anyway, he does not like it and he talks about screwing around with or just dumping the North American Free Trade Agreement to get even.

At least the courts will settle his recent tax on soft wood lumber from Canada. That has become routine. The Americans impose a tax on Canadian lumber. It goes to dispute resolution and gets thrown out. They can hardly expect it to be fourth time lucky. In the meantime, the price of new homes in the U.S. has gone up. And the Canadian lumber barons are missing the peak buying season for home building in the U.S.

Does Trump really think he is the only person who can negotiate better deals. What he does not seem to realize is that the first thing to establish when negotiating between countries is good faith. That might be a novelty for him.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Is Justin the adult in the school yard?

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

Has Prime Minister Trudeau been getting advice from psychologists on how to handle a bully? It is certainly to his credit that he is keeping his cool. Donald Trump continues to lob his ignorant taunts over the longest undefended border in the world and Canada’s prime minister just says, “We can discuss that.”

As angry as that loudmouth boor Trump makes most Canadians, it is important that our prime minister stay above the fray. As he says, Canadians will be pleased to discuss the problems with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). And to help, we have our own list of problems with the agreement ready for the negotiations.

When dealing with any irrational bully, you have find out what is behind the screaming and yelling. For you to scream and yell back at the irrational juvenile will do you no good.

For example, we really need to find out where this recent mention of the energy market came from. Many Canadians took exception to the American demand for full access to our energy reserves in NAFTA. They thought that was being too generous. And with what we now know about the pollution problems with tar sands oil production, there is growing pressure to leave it in the ground.

What is common knowledge on both sides of the border is that the Canadian milk producers have nothing to do with the disastrous over-production of milk in Wisconsin. When you consider that there are more steroid-fed cows in Wisconsin than there are cows in Canada, nobody but Trump would think to blame Canada. Wisconsin voted for Trump and helped put him in the White House. Now that he is there, he needs to play nice with the other world leaders—whether he likes them or not.

The one thing that we have understood from Trump’s tiresome tirades is the concern for soft-wood lumber on the west coast. That NAFTA argument has been in and out of the courts a number of times. How renegotiation would solve it is anyone’s guess. All we do know about this complaint is that the lumber kings of Oregon and Washington are going to be able to charge a lot more for their products when they do not have to compete with the lumber kings north of the border. Only the American home buyer will get screwed.

We do not always agree with Justin Trudeau but it is nice to see him handle this problem with Trump in an adult manner. He gets his handiwork stuck on the refrigerator for this one!

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me