Justin Trudeau’s trip to Brussels may end up providing Europe with a snapshot into the mind of Donald Trump.
The Prime Minister is currently in the Belgium capital for a North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting, and former Quebec Premier Jean Charest believes European leaders will likely be bending Trudeau’s ear on how to deal with the new U.S. administration.
“Since we are the neighbours of the United States, we are often called upon as an interpreter of what is happening in the United States,” Charest told BNN in an interview on Thursday.
“You can bet that at the NATO meeting a lot of leaders will be asking Prime Minister Trudeau ‘what’s happening?’ and ‘how do you interpret the way this new Trump administration actually functions?’”
After NATO, Trudeau will be traveling to Sicily, Italy, for G7 meetings on Friday and Saturday. Charest believes Trudeau should be taking advantage of those high-level meetings to push Canada’s interests and counter the protectionist rhetoric coming from the Trump administration. Charest is a staunch supporter of and one-time participant in brokering Canada’s still-to-be-enacted trade deal with Europe. He says Canada needs to look beyond its southern border for trade options.
“There is a very big opportunity for us to become a counterpoint to the Trump administration in terms of labour mobility, attracting talent to Canada,” Charest said.
“We can walk and chew gum at the same time, because our interests [are very] diverse … we should rightfully be focused more on [NAFTA] than anything else, but that being said, all of this reminds us Canada needs to diversify its trade out of the U.S. and into other jurisdictions,” he said.
Last week the Trump administration officially set in motion the process of renegotiating NAFTA. Charest, who is currently a partner at law firm McCarthy-Tetrault, believes the uncertainty surrounding the trade agreement is weighing on companies investment plans.
“The number one thing I hear on the street in regards to this context is that a lot of companies are waiting to see what will happen,” Charest said.
“That is not good for the economy, it’s not good for Canada. It means that investment decisions are not being made [and] jobs are not being created because some other companies are just waiting it out to get a realistic reading of the tea leaves before they make major decisions on where they invest.”
Charest says whatever solution NAFTA negotiators come up with, it should preserve balance in terms of the North American supply chain. Charest pointed in particular to the automotive sector where Mexican workers provide more of the labour-intensive duties like wiring and upholstery, allowing Canada and the U.S. to do more of the higher-value manufacturing work.
“That logic should be preserved,” Charest said. “It’s a logic that makes sense both for the industry, but also for the consumers who will get better prices and better products if we preserve that supply chain.”