As the Council of the Federation concludes its trip to Washington D.C., the delegation of premiers has one clear message: the North American Free Trade Agreement needs to be modernized.
U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to pull the plug on the 23-year-old trade agreement, casting some doubt on its future. What seems more likely is that Canada, the United States and Mexico will renegotiate the deal.
Yukon Premier Sandy Silver talked about the importance of mining to the Yukon economy and the territory’s close relationship with Alaska.
“There’s so much more we can do on free trade,” said Silver, who is leading the Canadian delegation as chair of the Council of the Federation.
“What’s important for Alaska is important for the Yukon. Our families and economies are interconnected,” he said.
The uncertainty currently surrounding NAFTA has most premiers hoping for a hasty renegotiation, or, as most put it, modernization.
“Especially with NAFTA, it’s important that we get things done sooner rather than later,” said Silver. “Having questions and not knowing is not good for the economy of both nations.”
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has been optimistic about what she’s heard in Washington “I would say that overall the quicker, less comprehensive review is what people are looking at,” she said. “I think there’s a hope that we can move through this pretty efficiently, improve what’s there, add what’s missing.”
The pace of technological change has left the original NAFTA, which came into effect in 1994, behind. Data services and certain intellectual-property rules for new technologies are not covered by the agreement.
Ultimately, negotiations will take place between the federal governments, but Silver said the premiers have been talking with federal Liberal government and remain confident their interests will be represented.
“It’s important for us to have a united front when negotiating trade,” said Silver, stressing the advantage of “strength in numbers.”
The seven premiers, including Silver, who attended the NAFTA panel in Washington on June 8 seemed to be taking this seriously. All spoke of the need to modernize the agreement, while at the same time emphasizing how important it has been for job creation in Canada and the United States.
“We won’t live in a world without NAFTA,” said Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball, who called a potentially renegotiated agreement “NAFTA 2.0.”
However, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister took a more hostile tone.
“I’ve seen the United States bully,” he said. “I’ve seen the United States hurt industry in Canada with bullying tactics…. We’re in a relationship where we need rules.”
Aside from the NAFTA panel, Silver also met with representatives from Alaska and the Federal Highway Administration, whom he intended to lobby for new funding under the Shakwak Agreement which pays for maintenance on the Alaksa and Haines highways.
Silver said he also pushed for protection of the Porcupine caribou herd’s breeding grounds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Trump administration has moved to open up oil exploration in the refuge, to the ire of the Gwich’in and environmental groups, who have managed to keep it off limits to development for decades.
Silver said he was able to have “frank conversations” with his American counterparts, but was ultimately unsuccessful in securing any guarantees on either issue. However, he is optimistic dialogue will continue.
“We have a commitment with our Alaskan counterparts that we communicate, that we keep in touch and know what the next steps are,” he said. “We got Shakwak on the table for them to consider.”
The Yukon Party, who also previously lobbied for Shakwak funding in Washington, has been critical of the Premier’s trip, calling it “unsuccessful.”
They did agree, however, that modernizing NAFTA may benefit Yukoners, as long as Silver is able to convey the Yukon’s interests to the federal government.
With a report from CP
Contact Andrew Seal at email@example.com