Canada in good position to renegotiate NAFTA: Schwarzman

Donald Trump trade adviser talks to Liberal cabinet ministers about trade plans

In this Dec. 27, 2013 photo, workers manufacture car dash mats at a maquiladora belonging to the TECMA group in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (AP Photo/Ivan Pierre Aguirre)

In this Dec. 27, 2013 photo, workers manufacture car dash mats at a maquiladora belonging to the TECMA group in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (AP Photo/Ivan Pierre Aguirre)

CALGARY — Canada is well regarded south of the border, so Prime Minister Justin Trudeau need not be “enormously worried” about a looming overhaul in U.S. trade policy under Donald Trump, an adviser to the new administration said Monday.

Stephen Schwarzman, who leads the president’s Strategic and Policy Forum, said Canada will be in a good position should there be a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“There may be some modifications, but basically things should go well for Canada in terms of any discussions with the United States,” said Schwarzman, who was in Calgary for meetings with Trudeau and his federal cabinet.

Schwarzman, CEO of the Blackstone Group investment firm, met privately with Trudeau and with ministers as part of a two-day cabinet retreat where the challenges posed by a Trump presidency were expected to dominate the agenda.

Trump has famously promised a new trade relationship with the world focusing on American interests — indeed, he made good on one part of that promise Monday by signing an order killing off the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Schwarzman said the Trump administration is more concerned with agreements in which there are big trade imbalances, which is not the situation with Canada. Americans hold an “unusually positive” view of Canada and the two countries have been great partners “for as long as anybody can remember,” he added.

David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, has suggested bilateral agreements outside of NAFTA are a possibility.

It is vital to have a good economic relationship with the U.S., and while some matters may be dealt with inside the controversial Canada-U.S.-Mexico agreement, which Trump has promised to revisit, others may be better handled outside it, he said.

The danger, he warned, is that Canada becomes “collateral damage” as Washington aims at what it sees as predatory trading partners.

“It’s essential that we get a better Canada-U.S. trade and economic and security relationship,” MacNaughton said.

“Whether that’s within an overall NAFTA arrangement, part of that is going to depend on obviously what Mexico’s reaction is to what they put on the table.

“We will co-operate on trilateral matters when it’s in our interest and we’ll be looking to do things that are in our interest bilaterally. Some of them may be within NAFTA and some of them may not be.”

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Trudeau talked about NAFTA on Sunday, as well as “the importance of the Canada-Mexico bilateral relationship, and of the trilateral North American partnership, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Canada has a strong relationship with Mexico and is happy to be part of NAFTA.

“But of course our relationship with the United States is primarily a bilateral relationship, and I think Canadians know and understand that.”

Meanwhile, other ministers Monday did their level best to send a business-as-usual signal — notably Finance Minister Bill Morneau, whose federal budget is expected next month.

“The necessity for us to work together in a collegial fashion with the United States is no different today than it was last year or will be next year,” Morneau said.

“Our planning for 2017 is built off our current economy and we will continue to work with the United States, seeking opportunities to improve our economic outcomes by enhancing our mutual trading relationship.”

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said the Trump and Trudeau governments can work together, even though the U.S. president is a staunch supporter of coal and has in the past expressed doubts about the science of climate change.

When asked whether she considers Trump an environmentalist, she said, “I think he’s a businessman,” adding that the market is moving in the direction of clean energy.

“There’s a huge opportunity for us to work with the United States in one of the fastest-growing sectors, in the renewable and clean tech sector … We have an opportunity to export even more clean power to the United States.”

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.