Canadian municipalities must take the initiative to seek out international business and economic opportunities, especially given U.S. President Donald Trump's threats to tear up the North American Free-Trade Agreement, Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger says.
Speaking from the Colombian capital of Bogota, Eisenberger said his city and nearby Niagara region is trying to build a relationship with the South American country that began at the Pan-Am Games in the greater Toronto area two years ago.
"Municipalities today are much more aggressive and need to be," Eisenberger said in an interview. "(They) can't necessarily wait for the national government to do a junket to a country of its choice or for the provincial government, although we participate in those as well."
Trump has long made it clear that he wants, at the very least, to renegotiate NAFTA, saying the deal with Canada and Mexico has put the U.S. at a disadvantage. He repeated that position on Sunday.
"We are in the NAFTA (worst trade deal ever made) renegotiation process with Mexico & Canada. Both being very difficult, may have to terminate?" the president tweeted.
"The only thing that needs to be terminated is your presidency," Eisenberger shot back in a tweet of his own. "Save yourself and your country. Resign and you will be popular everywhere."
Justin Avery, CEO of Hamilton-based Xeist Inc., has just returned from Colombia with a view to finding a manufacturer to produce the company's sportswear. Trump's statements on NAFTA are disturbing and underscore the need to look at places to do deals, he said.
"It definitely does become a concern, especially with a 75 per cent hike that he was talking about on some tariffs," Avery said. "We have to weigh our options and look at different options now just because of that."
Terminating NAFTA is 'ridiculous,' Eisenberger says
While Eisenberger said he expects NAFTA to survive given its importance to the United States, the mayor made it clear he has little time for the president's threats and style of politics. Sunday's response to Trump, Eisenberger told The Canadian Press, was borne of anger over what he called the president's divisive politics, misogyny and racism.
"I've been watching this whole Trump experience with interest and frustration — certainly the kind of divisive politics has caught my attention and certainly is something we should stand against and speak against," Eisenberger said. "The NAFTA tweet was a culmination of frustrations, and this one culminated for me on Sunday when he put a tweet out there saying he may want to terminate the NAFTA agreement, which I think is ridiculous."
Eisenberger is leading a delegation during a 12-day visit that will take in three Colombian cities — Barranquilla and Medellin as well as Bogota. Representatives from several area businesses, such as Air Canada Cargo and Kubes Steel, as well as from McMaster University and Mohawk college, are joining the mayor starting Saturday.
Eisenberger told CBC News the trip to Colombia was not motivated by concerns over NAFTA. "This was in the planning, in any event, before Mr. Trump became President," he said. "It just so happens that we're going at a time that NAFTA is in the news."
The Pan-Am Games afforded Hamilton an opportunity to host business people and others from the Americas and Colombia, with whom Canada already has a free-trade deal, turned out to be a country of particular bilateral interest. The South American country has finally put behind years of a drug-cartel-fuelled insurgency and entering a period of growth and stability that is making it an attractive place to further ties, the mayor said.
"We've continued to nurture that relationship and are now getting more specific in terms of meeting businesses and leaders here directly on potential opportunities in agri-business, in information and communications, in advanced manufacturing," Eisenberger said.
Among other things, the McMaster Innovation Park research centre is expected to sign a memorandum of understanding with a Colombian counterpart.
With files from Kelly Bennett, CBC News