Win or lose, Trump's anti-trade tirades are a problem for Canada: Chris Hall

Mexico seems to be Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's favourite target. But when it comes to trade, Canadians ought to take notice of what he's saying. His rhetoric could have real consequences regardless of whether he wins in November, Chris Hall writes.

'The danger is that his rhetoric is encouraging more protectionist sentiment in Congress and among Americans'

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a joint statement with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in Mexico City. Trump has focused many of his attacks on Mexico during the campaign, but his anti-trade talk is a concern for Canada, win or lose. (Dario Lopez-Mills/Associated Press)

Donald Trump continued his rhetorical tirade against Mexico this week, watered down ever so slightly when he shared the stage with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on Wednesday.

There, at least, he didn't repeat his past invective that branded illegal Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers.

Even so, the main themes of the Trump campaign remained on full display.

He'll start building a wall across the border on his first day in the White House. He'll remove illegal immigrants. All 11 million of them. And he says he'll renegotiate trade deals, including NAFTA, because they're bad for the U.S.

"NAFTA has been a far greater benefit to Mexico than it has been to the United States," he said during that joint media availability with Pena Nieto, who seemed to realize halfway through that it was, as virtually every political analyst had already concluded, a colossal miscalculation to have invited Trump (and Hillary Clinton) for a visit.

But when it comes to trade, Canadians better take notice of what the Republican nominee is saying. It goes beyond the singular scapegoating of Mexico, which has been the staple of the Trump campaign.

Mexico is the U.S.'s second-largest trading partner. Canada, of course, is No. 1. And even if this country isn't always on the tip of Trump's tongue, it's very much at the back of his mind.

"When I am president, I'm going to look at every trade deal we have across the world and see what steps must be taken to protect American jobs and create new opportunities for the American worker," he told supporters in Ohio on Thursday.

"We will fight for every last American job. And we will have friendships with other countries, but they will not take advantage of us any longer."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau isn't likely to invite the Republican presidential nominee to Canada for a visit. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

If that doesn't seem specific enough, here's what else Trump has said about NAFTA, Canada and free trade.

"We lose with Canada — big league. Tremendous, tremendous trade deficits with Canada," he told supporters in Rochester, N.Y., in April.

And that same month in Watertown, N.Y.,  just across the border from Ontario:

"NAFTA emptied out your businesses. TPP — the Trans-Pacific Partnership — will make NAFTA look like a baby."

For all the love Trump expresses for Canada — or at least the one time he was asked by a CBC reporter — it's that kind of rhetoric that worries Jayson Myers. He's the president of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, which represents companies that produce $620 billion worth of goods each year, half of which are exported to the U.S.

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"There are lots of reasons to renegotiate NAFTA, but not from the basis of bringing jobs back to the United States," he said. "That would cost far more jobs because so many industries depend on supply chains built right across North America."

Trump's assertion that the U.S. is running a huge trade deficit with Canada is also simply not true.

In 2015, according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the U.S. ran a trade surplus with Canada in all goods and services of nearly $12 billion. Just as important, the U.S. Department of Commerce's most recent numbers show exports to Canada supported 1.7 million American jobs in 2014.
Statistics aside, many Trump supporters are convinced trade deals are hurting the U.S. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Myers says the problem, whether Trump wins or loses in November, is that he's reinforcing a political agenda south of the border that claims American jobs are being lost because of trade, and that policies such as Buy American and country of origin labelling requirements that penalize imports from countries such as Canada will restore American pride and prosperity.

"It's a fool's game to try to correct everything he [Trump] says that is wrong during an election campaign," Myers said. "But the danger is that his rhetoric is encouraging more protectionist sentiment in Congress and among Americans."

Deep concern in U.S.

For most Canadians, the prospect of a Trump presidency, with its potential hostility to Canada, probably still seems remote. It was just a few months ago that President Barack Obama elicited chants of "four more years" with his stirring speech in the Commons that borrowed Irish rocker Bono's "the world needs more Canada" riff. It was just a couple of months before that when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was treated to a lavish welcome in Washington.

Trudeau won't make the mistake of inviting Trump to Canada. Or Hillary Clinton for that matter.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto says he told Trump that Mexico won't pay for the border wall Trump says he would start building on his first day in office, if elected president of the U.S. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

But he and his government also shouldn't make the mistake of assuming Trump doesn't mean what he says about renegotiating NAFTA to bring American jobs back home.

David MacNaughton, Canada's ambassador to the U.S., told reporters covering the Liberals' cabinet retreat in Sudbury, Ont., last month that there's a deep concern in the U.S. that trade deals aren't working.

"So that is causing the kind of thing — and it's not just Donald Trump that's saying it, it was Bernie Sanders saying it, you had Hillary Clinton come out and make some statements that aren't particularly positive about trade," he said. "And I think we need to understand the anxiety level that is in the United States, because if we don't understand it, we don't have a method of dealing with it."

But it's Trump who's trying to build momentum with this angst.

Hope 'political rhetoric is just that'

Myers says his association is working hard with its American counterpart to outline the benefits of NAFTA, to target any discussion of updating NAFTA to those few items that are clearly out of date 22 years after the deal was negotiated.

"Look, the bottom line is that we'll have to work with whomever is in the White House," Myers conceded. "We just have to hope the political rhetoric is just that."

But it's a challenge. If Trump was once easy to dismiss, his anti-trade rhetoric can no longer be ignored. Even when it's aimed at Mexico.


Chris Hall

National Affairs Editor

Chris Hall is the CBC's National Affairs Editor and host of The House on CBC Radio, based in the Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. He began his reporting career with the Ottawa Citizen, before moving to CBC Radio in 1992, where he worked as a national radio reporter in Toronto, Halifax and St. John's. He returned to Ottawa and the Hill in 1998. Follow him on Twitter: @chrishallcbc


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