I haven’t seen this discussed by other commentators, but it seems to me that Canada holds a tremendous bargaining advantage because Parliament has not yet ratified USMCA. President Trump has told us that USMCA is a fantastic agreement and would replace the worst trade deal ever. And he desperately wants USMCA to take effect before the election. Canada, on the other hand, is virtually indifferent between NAFTA1, which is in effect now, and NAFTA2, which would replace it. So why not attach some conditions to ratification? Surely this is something Trump would understand.
The conditions wouldn’t affect the substance of USMCA, but would rather deal with other issues of concern to Canada. The most urgent is to get the US to agree to drop its charges against Ms. Meng Wanhzou, which would quickly lead to her and the two Michaels returning home, and to an enormous improvement in the relationship between China and Canada.
Of course, this won’t happen, because it’s not the Canadian way. The federal government has made it clear that ratifying USMCA is its top priority. And Canada, in its international diplomacy, doesn’t link unrelated issues, but deals with each issue on its own merits. Finally, we have no idea how Trump would react to this gambit.
So, let’s assume that Parliament soon ratifies USMCA without any side deals and gives Trump the big win he is looking for. Does this constitute a major improvement in Canada-US relations? My guess is that our ratification of USMCA will be tantamount to “peace in our time.” (Indeed, I considered this as an alternative title for this post.)
There are a number of major disagreements between the US and Canada still simmering, any one of which could potentially come to a boil. Regardless of the status of Ms. Meng, the US wants Canada to exclude Huawei from our 5G network, a decision we haven’t yet made. Canada appears to be backing California on auto emissions and fuel economy standards, but the Trump Administration wants us to back its own, weaker, standards. And the Trump Administration wants us to increase defence (Canadian spelling, please!) spending from 1.4 to 2 percent of GDP. Many Canadians see this, not as an appropriate contribution to the collective mission of NATO, but rather as a shakedown to get us to buy more American military equipment, especially fighter aircraft. If Canada refuses to give the Trump Administration what it wants on any of these three issues, who knows what negative sanctions, including the imposition of new tariffs, Trump might impose by Tweet?
The US was once the leader of the free world, not only because of its economic and military might, but also because of its shared values with its closest allies. However, there are now few shared values between a strong majority of Canadians and the Trump Administration. Multilateralism versus “America first.” The rule of law versus flouting the law. Trying to meet our climate change commitments under the Paris Accord versus tearing up the Paris Accord. Recognition of a woman’s right to decide about her own body versus “right to life.” Embracing diversity versus enabling white supremacy. The absence or at least weakness of shared values predicts there will be continuing conflict.
With the prospect of four more years of conflict if Trump is re-elected, many Canadians would like to do what they can to ensure that he is a one-term president. But, respectful of US law that prevents us from contributing to US election campaigns, the most we Canadians can do is make the argument that the Trump Administration’s pursuit of “America first” has turned the US into an international pariah. We can hope that this argument will be one of the factors that will persuade independents to support the Democratic nominee.