Canada’s Business Leaders Urged To Promote NAFTA As Trade Talks Resume

The Business Council of Canada is calling out Canadian business leaders for remaining silent on the fate of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and urging corporate executives to speak-up in support of the trade pact.

The fate of the 24-year-old trade agreement could be decided this week in Montreal when negotiators and political leaders for Canada, the United States and Mexico meet to discuss a revised version of NAFTA. And while federal politicians in Ottawa have been busy talking up the benefits of NAFTA at every opportunity, Canada’s business community has been conspicuously silent on the matter, according to the Business Council of Canada.

“The most-powerful thing that we can do is, — and I know that government is doing this, which businesses, generally, have not done — is actually bang on the doors out in the countryside,” Council President John Manley, a former Liberal Finance Minister, said Tuesday. “I think it’s because they feel there’s an increasing tide of protectionism in the United States and they’d rather not draw attention to themselves as a foreign owner or a foreign-controlled company,” he added.

Participating in the pro-NAFTA mission in the U.S. poses challenges to some Canadian businesses due to the anti-trade sentiment that is being fuelled by American President Donald Trump and his threats to significantly transform or terminate the trade pact. Many U.S. businesses have also remained silent on the fate of NAFTA.

Some business leaders, however, disagree with the argument that the effort by Canadian firms to help save NAFTA has been weak. Perrin Beatty, the head of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, told The Financial Post newspaper that he hadn’t heard anything about a shortage of Canadian companies promoting the deal in the U.S.

“What I’ve seen is good support from Canadian companies. And it’s been very helpful,” said Mr. Beatty, who has been on pro-NAFTA missions in the U.S. with business leaders. Mr. Beatty added though that Ottawa could do more to help organize and provide resources to ensure more Canadian Chief Executive Officers visit their U.S. factories to promote the deal and arrange meetings with local politicians and journalists.

Still, Mr. Manley’s council is urging Canadian companies with U.S. operations to help make the case for NAFTA with U.S. politicians in their districts at the eleventh hour. It’s important for these firms to stress the fact that their operations employ American people, he said.