Alberta Federation of Agriculture president Lynn Jacobson says while no one is thinking of walking away from the table yet, there is certainly less optimism about being able to make a new NAFTA deal with the Americans than there was a few months back.
“We just had our CFA board meeting in Ottawa,” states Jacobson. “We had the chief negotiator in talking with us. They are taking a wait and see attitude.
“From what he told us, they are not going to walk away from the talks because that would just add ammunition to the American side’s quiver. But if they continue on insisting on some of this stuff they put on the table in the third round, and carry on with that, there will be no agreement.
“One of the statements he told us is: ‘We will not sign a bad deal for Canada. We are better off having no deal than having a bad deal.’”
Jacobson says the Canadian side is hanging tough so far, but is starting to muse aloud about a trade future beyond NAFTA.
“The talk around the table, when we did talk about it, was basically Donald Trump’s negotiating tactics through this are what he would use if he was going to buy a building or something like that. But will the U.S. go and actually kill NAFTA? The ball is in their court. We want to sign a deal which is good for everybody.”
Jacobson acknowledges a rising tide of protectionism around the world in terms of trade, but feels the Trump administration in many respects seems blinded by it.
“Looking at it from the outside, the ridiculousness of some of the positions Trump has taken is we are going to re-negotiate our trade deal with South Korea,” explains Jacobson by way of example. “And we will pretty much cancel the whole thing if you don’t agree with what we say. This is right in the middle of a time when we are facing a possible war with North Korea.
“I don’t think he is going to get America First,” he adds. “I think it has to be a win-win for everybody. If he is going to make America the superpower and everybody else is going to bow down to him, I don’t think that is going to happen.”
Jacobson says if NAFTA ultimately fails everything automatically snaps back to Canada and the United States bilateral Free Trade Agreement signed in 1988, and beyond that back to the original founding agreements of the W.T.O.
“I think for Canada, whether we sign a deal or not, we have to be a trading nation,” states Jacobson.
“Will we give up things to get a deal? That’s yet to be seen at this point in time, despite what out federal government is saying publicly.
“But I think there is a limit they will go to and then just say no. The U.S. is not going to be able to walk over us and do what they want. We just have to take it day to day.”