Why Not Negotiate in Ottawa?

It was becoming clear last Thursday night that Canada–US NAFTA negotiations would not “get to yes” by the Friday deadline imposed by the Liar-in-Chief. As it became evident that the deadline was phony and there would be another round of negotiations this week, I wondered if the two teams ever negotiated about where these negotiations would take place. Experienced negotiators know that the venue of a negotiation can subtly shape the outcome. It is noteworthy that earlier rounds of the NAFTA negotiations rotated among Washington, Ottawa, and la Ciudad de Mexico.

I surmise two reasons for keeping the negotiations in Washington. First, because the emerging challenge is to come up with a deal the Liar can accept, negotiating at the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) offices – a mere 10 minute walk from the White House – makes it easy for Ambassador Lighthizer to have face-to-face consultations with White House staff and the Liar himself. Unlike the negotiations in Washington, which seem to have attracted the attention of only a small segment of the Washington press corps, negotiations in Ottawa would attract widespread public attention, and occasion public demonstrations.

If so, then I say, “Bring it on!” Negotiating in Ottawa would send the Americans team a message about two things they appear to forget. First, Canada is a sovereign nation (rather than, as I suggested last week, chopped liver). Second, the Canadian public strongly supports the Trudeau Government’s refusal to make concessions on a fair dispute resolution mechanism, cultural sovereignty, and support for the dairy industry. This would be our response to the Liar-in-Chief’s not necessarily successful attempt to whip up anti-Canadian sentiment among his core supporters.

There are a number of places where the negotiations could be held: Global Affairs Canada’s Pearson Building, the Government Conference Centre (now temporary home of our Senate), and the Prime Minister’s summer residence at Harrington Lake. Each has its share of distinctive Canadian imagery and iconography. The Harrington Lake residence, the least accessible to protesters, would remind the Americans about some critical international negotiations they once conducted at Camp David.

If the American team is intransigent about location, then how about striking a compromise and negotiating at the Canadian Embassy in Washington? It has a great view of the Washington skyline, is rich in Canadian symbolism, and isn’t much farther from the White House than the USTR’s office.

Optimistic Canadian observers of the negotiations like the Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson are hoping that if Minister Freeland and Ambassador Lighthizer can get to yes, then with the support of the business community, Congress, and the Mexicans, the Liar-in-Chief will have to accept their deal. We’ll see.

In any event, by agreeing to continue the negotiations at the USTR’s office we missed an opportunity to send an important message about our sovereignty and resolve.

Sandford

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