Montreal

'There's rhetoric and there's reality': Charest says Canada in good position for NAFTA talks

With trade talks formally kicking off this week, the former Quebec premier believes that Canada is in a good position to negotiate as an "unpredictable" U.S. President Donald Trump demands fundamental changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Former Quebec premier says chief negotiator, 'unpredictable' Trump will help Canada in negotiations

Former Quebec premier Jean Charest said in an interview on Radio-Canada that these talks take 'a lot of time and a lot of energy.' (Radio-Canada)

With trade talks formally kicking off this week, former Quebec premier Jean Charest believes that Canada is in a good position to negotiate as an "unpredictable" U.S. President Donald Trump demands fundamental changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Charest said that Trump's staunch bargaining methods and high expectations on unrealistic deadlines will quickly catch up with him and his lead negotiators as trilateral NAFTA talks unfold in Washington.

"Mr. Trump's rhetoric is often very harsh and, at times, violent," Charest said in an interview. "And he's unpredictable."

While the 23-year-old agreement is about to undergo a historic rewrite, Charest said that Trump's plan for swift talks on a tight schedule is "difficult to believe."

Charest, who helped kickstart talks between the European Union and Canada in 2007, said negotiations about a such a comprehensive deal involving many players and layers "normally take years."

"It takes a lot of time and a lot of energy," he said, comparing it to working out a tumultuous relationship. "We're lucky if we're still married at the end to our partner."

Canada in a good place

Charest also has high praise for Steve Verheul, who is leading Canada's negotiating team. Verheul will bring his experience from being the chief negotiator for Canada's recent trade deal with the European Union to the bargaining table, said Charest.

"It is, in my opinion, a very good thing," Charest said. "He'll be in a good position to make the arguments that we should be bringing."

Canada's objectives in a renegotiated NAFTA include cutting red tape for businesses, ensuring it serves as an engine for economic growth and jobs, and making the deal more progressive for labour, the environment, gender equality and Indigenous rights.

President Donald Trump is 'unpredictable' according to former Quebec premier Jean Charest. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

Charest also predicts that U.S. chief negotiator John Melle, a career bureaucrat with an in-depth knowledge of Canada and Mexico, will have his hands full with Trump.

"He's a very respected man but he's not in the same school of thought as Mr. Trump," said Charest, adding that people are waiting to know if he'll follow orders from the president.

"He has to live with Donald Trump and his tweets, and with an unpredictable head of state."

Between having a strong negotiator representing Canada and what he calls the "Trump method," Charest thinks that Canada has some advantages when it comes to negotiating the three-way pact.

"There's rhetoric and there's reality," said Charest. "And Canadians will try to keep Americans on solid ground and in the domain of reality as much as possible — and I think we're in a good place to do so."

With files from Radio-Canada , the CBC'S Kathleen Harris, and The Canadian Press

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