Enforce the CUSMA or it won't be 'worth the paper it's printed on,' top U.S. business leader says

The Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) is at substantive risk unless the three partners are held accountable for continuing to violate aspects of the deal, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says.

Head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Suzanne Clark says 'compliance is falling short' on trade deal

 U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, Suzanne P. Clark, meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (not pictured) in his West Block office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Wednesday, April 19, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby
The Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) is at risk unless the three partners are held accountable for continuing to violate aspects of the deal, Suzanne Clark, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press)

The Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA)  is at substantive risk unless the three partners are held accountable for continuing to violate aspects of the deal, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says.

 In the U.S., the trade pact is known as the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA). "Like any other agreement, the USMCA isn't worth the paper it's printed on without meaningful compliance and enforcement," Suzanne Clark, the chamber's president and CEO, said Monday at the North American Business Summit in Washington, D.C.

It's been almost three years since the tri-lateral trade pact, which replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement, came into effect. But Clark expressed concern that since it was signed, all three countries are guilty of not complying with parts of the deal. 

Canada, for example, hasn't honoured its obligation to enhanced market access that was granted to the U.S. and Mexico for dairy, she said. The U.S. has failed to implement the CUSMA ruling on automotive parts rules of origin, Clark added.

Meanwhile, Mexico has failed to hold up its CUSMA energy obligations, she said.

"And that's just to name a few examples where compliance is falling short."

Clark said government officials will say that the three countries will work through these issues, that they're just normal irritants in a commercial relationship, and that the CUSMA does provide necessary mechanisms to resolve problems. 

"That may be true, but it's also just as simple as keeping our word," she said.

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North America is a "family" of states that can come together with goodwill and candor to see what's working, and what needs to be improved, Clark said.

"That work begins with fully implementing and complying with the letter and the spirit of USMCA." 

'Push for accountability'

She said she knows of the speculation about why there isn't more of a focus on enforcing provisions — that it's not a priority, that it's tied to other geopolitical considerations or it's caught up in the crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border. 

"But no matter what the underlying cause of inaction, it's important that the people in this room push for accountability and compliance," she said.

These issues must be resolved not only to prove the deal works or to fulfil its potential, but most importantly, "to prove that we can do it," and that there's a commitment to making the deal strong, Clark said.

"So that if an administration changes or when the USMCA undergoes its scheduled joint review in 2026, the economic case is indisputable. No one can say that this agreement isn't maximizing North American competitiveness," Clark said.

The CUSMA built on the success of NAFTA and provided the transparency and certainty the business community needs, she said.

But that certainty would be lost, she said, if the three countries fail to honour their CUSMA commitments. 

"Failing to do so undercuts our potential to be the world's most competitive region."

The agreement underpins the ability of the three countries to collaborate on priorities like food and energy security, resilient supply chains, transparency, stability and due process, she added. 

"When these factors are not present, investment can't thrive, the economies cannot grow, jobs cannot be created and we do not enjoy prosperity," Clark said. 

"When they are absent, corruption thrives, ambiguity reigns, investment dollars flee and tax revenues plummet."


Mark Gollom

Senior Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.

With files from The Canadian Press