Lawmakers push to include Canada in trade deal as 'intense' negotiations continue

Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., speaks to KTUL from Capitol Hill on Sep. 5, 2018. (KTUL)

Trade negotiations between the United States and Canada continued Wednesday as President Donald Trump claimed he wants a “fair deal” and members of Congress stressed the importance of including Canada in a tentative agreement the U.S. has brokered with Mexico.

“I'm not blaming Canada, I love Canada... but they and other countries have been taking advantage of the United States for many years. And this is the president that has stopped it,” Trump told reporters at the White House Wednesday.

Since taking office, Trump has prioritized renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, a 25-year-old pact with Canada and Mexico that members of both parties agree is somewhat outdated and due for an update. On Wednesday, Trump called NAFTA “very stupid” and “one of the worst trade deals in the history of our country.”

Last week, the White House announced a bilateral agreement with Mexico that the president intends to sign later this year. Efforts to pressure Canada into accepting the conditions of that deal before formal notification was sent to Congress Friday faltered, but talks continue this week with top officials meeting in Washington Wednesday.

House members said they just received specifics about the bilateral deal and are still reviewing them.

“Since the original [NAFTA] deal was signed, these three economies have transformed,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis. “The internet didn’t exist really at the time this deal was signed, so I think it’s appropriate to modernize the agreement, but the devil is in the details.”

According to Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., provisions in the Mexico deal that would improve labor standards for Mexican workers are promising, but he agreed the details of the final agreement are what really matters.

“One detail we can’t leave out is the inclusion of Canada in the North American Free Trade Agreement,” Kildee said. “We have to have a Canadian partner. It’s important to the U.S. economy and I hope the president allows negotiations to proceed and doesn’t act rashly and simply act to enact an agreement that excludes Canada.”

Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., described current U.S. trade relationships as “a little slanted toward the countries doing business with us,” and he called for a new deal with Canada on equal terms.

“At the end of the day, Canada needs us and we need them. It’s about what’s best for both countries,” he said.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Tuesday he will not bend on demands to include a dispute resolution mechanism and cultural exemptions in the agreement.

“Canada will not be signing a deal unless it is in the interest of Canadian workers, the Canadian middle class and Canadians in general,” Trudeau said at a news conference. “We’ve been very clear that there are a number of things that we absolutely must see.”

President Trump described the negotiations as “intense” Wednesday.

“We'll see how it works out. If it doesn't work out it that's going to be fine for the country, for our country. It won't be fine for Canada,” Trump said, adding again, “but we love Canada.”

Lawmakers whose states border the nation’s northern neighbor were particularly troubled by the uncertainty surrounding trade relations with Canada.

“The trade just between Michigan and Ontario is one of the greatest and biggest trading relationships on the planet,” Kildee said.

According to Gallagher, the bilateral deal with Mexico would benefit Wisconsin businesses, but a trilateral agreement would create even more opportunities for them.

“Now we actually have one of the most competitive tax codes in the world, so the task we need to turn to is figuring out how do we open up foreign markets so our manufacturers and our dairy farmers in northeast Wisconsin can sell to the 96 percent of the world’s customers who live outside the continental U.S., and my hope is that we can push this agreement in that direction,” he said.

The negotiations with Mexico and Canada are just one aspect of President Trump’s trade agenda, which has often involved placing tariffs on goods from allied countries as well as adversaries without seeking congressional approval by claiming they are necessary for national security.

“We’re following the guidelines of the World Trade Organization,” Mullin said. “We’re allowed within the WTO to install tariffs, especially under national security.”

Gallagher drew a distinction between the president’s attempts to counter unfair trading practices by China, which he feels are long overdue, and Trump’s assertion that steel and aluminum tariffs on allies are vital to security interests.

“One, I don’t think we face national security concerns from Canadian or Mexican steel and aluminum, and two, I believe fundamentally that tariffs are taxes, they’re taxes that distort the free market, they’re taxes that pick winners and losers, and they’re taxes that ultimately hurt domestic producers and manufacturers,” he said.

While Trump’s tariff-centric approach to trade has drawn criticism from Gallagher and others in his own party, Mullin observed that the U.S. economy and job market are booming despite, or possibly because of, those policies.

“It’s exciting to see what’s happening in the economy, so evidently what the president is trying to do is working,” he said.

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