If Canada wants talks for a new North American Free Trade Agreement to make progress, Ottawa must give up some of its “politically correct, progressive” trade agenda, former foreign affairs minister John Baird told BNN on Friday.
“I think the government has been basically competent in the way they’ve dealt with this file,” Baird said.
“They’ve got put away some of the politically correct, progressive trade agenda and be more focused though.”
Baird’s comments come ahead of the sixth round of NAFTA negotiations which get underway on Sunday in Montreal. The talks were originally scheduled to run Jan. 23-28, but are now set to begin Jan. 21.
U.S. officials have been frustrated with what it perceives as Canada’s inflexibility at the negotiating table, preferring to promote Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “progressive” trade agenda, according to a report by Bloomberg citing unnamed sources.
In a speech last August, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke about how the Liberal government aims to “make NAFTA more progressive” in areas including labour rights, the environment, gender equality and Indigenous interests.
“Canadians broadly support free trade. But their enthusiasm wavers when trade agreements put our workers at an unfair disadvantage because of the high standards that we rightly demand,” Freeland said in the speech.
“Instead, we must pursue progressive trade agreements that are win-win, helping workers both at home and abroad to enjoy higher wages and better conditions.”
U.S. President Donald Trump has long threatened to pull out of NAFTA, criticizing the 1994 trade treaty as a bad deal for American workers. Trump tweeted on Thursday that NAFTA is a “bad joke” and reiterated his plan to build a wall with Mexico.
Baird said that while the talks have been “quite acrimonious,” there are still positive signs for Canada.
“The good news is that they’ve extended talks to the end of March and even opened the door to extend them beyond that. That’s good for Canada – the fact that we’re still at the table is good,” Baird, who is now senior advisor at Bennett Jones LLP, said.
However, if Canada continues to press its progressive trade agenda, Trump could easily follow through on his threat to tear up the trade deal, he said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised whatsoever [if] any day now he wouldn’t just give the six month notice abrogation notice to get Canada and Mexico’s attention.”