This week’s rushed NAFTA negotiations are a sorry spectacle. The US and Mexico took six weeks to cut a complicated deal involving the full range of issues at stake while excluding Canada from the negotiations. Then the liar-in-chief announces it, gives Canada 100 hours to get on board, and threatens to impose immediate tariffs on Canadian automobile exports if we don’t. Then Global Affairs Minister Christia Freeland (Harvard College ’93) and several other ministers and senior officials drop everything else they are doing and scurry to Washington to last-minute negotiations. And that’s where we stand now.
It is well-known that progress in complicated negotiations often happens under a deadline. Minister Freeland and her team are smart, well-briefed, and have been negotiating long enough with the American team, headed by US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (and including Jared Kushner), to know whether they are willing to move far enough on any of Canada’s bottom-line issues for the two countries to “get to yes” in approximately 50 hours.
As my title of this post suggests, there is great resentment in Canada of the liar-in-chief’s persistent bullying of our prime minister and country starting right after the G7 meeting in June. We know that the liar-in-chief is mercurial, and his statements about other people can go from accusatory (“little rocket man”) to laudatory (“warmest regards and respect”) and back again overnight.
That said, the liar’s obvious purpose in trying to rush a NAFTA deal is to have an American win that he can point to in the mid-term election campaign. He will want to be able to tell his base at campaign rallies that he successfully pushed that weakling Trudeau and his country around. How will this play in Canada?
On the other hand, if the liar sounds laudatory toward Trudeau and says that the new post-NAFTA trade deal is great for all three countries, will he be believed by Canadians? The liar’s approval rating among Canadians is now less than 20 percent. It is hard for a politician to be believed, regardless what he says, when his approval rating is that low.
So, for Canada, the economics of a trade deal could well be at odds with the politics of a trade deal. Politically, I hope that whatever happens, Canada makes clear that it resists the liar’s bad-faith negotiating and bullying. And maybe now is the time to call the liar’s bluff.