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Free Trade Agreement: Let the talks begin!

The Story

On Sept. 26, 1985 Prime Minister Brian Mulroney officially announces his interest in beginning free trade talks with the U.S. CBC's Ken McCreath reports that Mulroney had written to President Ronald Reagan earlier, proposing "the broadest possible package of mutually beneficial reductions in barriers to trade in goods and services." Reagan's response had been quick and enthusiastic. Mulroney tries to calm opponents of free trade, saying that the essence of Canada -- "our political sovereignty, our system of social programs, our commitment to fight regional disparities, our unique cultural identity, our special linguistic character" -- is not up for negotiation. Mulroney argues free trade will give Canadians access to the gargantuan American market. In return Reagan believes free trade will give Americans the freedom to invest in Canada and gain access to Canadian resources and markets. To help Canada get the best deal possible, Mulroney appoints Simon Reisman as his chief negotiator. Reisman is a seasoned political figure. Back in 1965 he successfully negotiated the Canada-U.S. Auto Pact. By contrast Americans appoint Peter Murphy as their chief negotiator. Murphy is an unknown. Twenty-five years younger than Reisman, he has little experience in international trade matters. The U.S. Congress gives President Ronald Reagan authority to sign a free trade agreement with Canada no later than Jan. 2, 1988. Since the agreement must be reviewed by the Congress for 90 days before that date, the two sides have until midnight on Oct. 4, 1987 to hammer out a deal.

Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News
Broadcast Date: Sept. 26, 1985
Reporter: Ken McCreath
Duration: 2:33

Did You know?

• Negotiations to establish a free trade agreement officially began on June 17, 1986.
• Canadian deputy chief negotiator Gordon Ritchie said that the appointment of Peter Murphy sent a clear message to Canadians that free trade was a low priority for the U.S. Ritchie said that the American team was "mediocre at best" and completely removed from the centres of power in Washington.

• Personality-wise, Reisman and Peter Murphy were completely mismatched. Reisman was a charismatic extrovert, often standing on chairs to make his point. Murphy on the other hand was quiet, guarded and uncommunicative.
• Despite warmly endorsing free trade between Canada and the U.S., Canadians felt President Reagan promptly neglected it.


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