Congresswoman, in Quebec, calls to strengthen, modernize NAFTA
VAUDREUIL-DORION, Quebec — Do no harm. Congresswoman Elise Stefanik said that should be the starting point in renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
She offered her thoughts as guest speaker at the first in the series NAFTA Major Meetings: Leaders’ Perspectives, held Monday afternoon at Chateau Vaudreuil near Montreal.
The event was co-hosted by the Quebec Chamber of Commerce Federation, the Vaudreuil-Soulanges Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the North Country Chamber of Commerce.
Stefanik responded mostly to questions posed by Frederick Gagnon, professor of political science and director of the Center for United States Studies at the University of Quebec at Montreal.
She said the first rule going into trade negotiations should be to keep what is working, as trade between the two countries vastly benefits both sides.
“I do not support termination of NAFTA,” she said. “I think we need to strengthen the agreement and modernize it and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Gagnon said that many people in Canada felt reassured in the early stages after President Donald Trump indicated a plan to only tweak parts of the agreement that pertain to Canada.
More recently, Gagnon said, there has been concern north of the border that those talks might not be going so well.
Stefanik said that, from her view, a recent decision to prolong the negotiations was a step in the right direction.
“I believe we have identified this is a critical issue to our domestic economy, and we need to get it right,” she said.
Canadians should be reassured that Congress has the ultimate jurisdiction when it comes to entering and exiting trade agreements, Stefanik said.
While she doesn’t see any decision to end NAFTA looming, in the end, doing so would need to be approved by the House and Senate.
Stress the difference
Gagnon asked whether the two countries might be better served by a bilateral rather than a trilateral agreement.
Stefanik said that while she is not involved in that discussion, it does appear the president prefers bilateral agreements.
She believes the agreement should remain trilateral, but Canadians should continue to stress the differences between the United States’ relationships with its southern and northern neighbors.
“I always try to stress to my colleagues that difference,” the congresswoman said. “You can’t simply group them [Canada and Mexico] together.”
Chance to modernize
The negotiations do provide a chance to modernize outdated aspects of the agreement and streamline rules and regulations, Stefanik said.
Regulatory reform is an area that would be a win-win for Canada and the United States, she noted, and provide opportunities for businesses on both sides of the border.
That could include updates to regulations on digital technology to ensure both sides keep up with rapid changes in an increasingly digital marketplace, she said.
Another opportunity, Stefanik added, could be increasing access to markets for agricultural businesses, such as the dairy farmers and vintners in her district.
The congresswoman, R-Willsboro, said she was dismayed to see the amount of anti-trade sentiment in the most recent election cycle. She doesn’t believe that is indicative of a consensus among her colleagues in Washington.
She is a member of the Northern Border Caucus, comprising representatives of states on the Canadian border who work to provide a united front in stressing the importance of the economic relationship with Canada to the administration.
It is important to visit firms with ties to Canada, such as Bombardier Transportation and Nova Bus/Prevost in Plattsburgh, to better share the impact of that relationship with other legislators, Stefanik said.
Such businesses should try to do more to promote their value to the U.S. economy and job market, she added, especially in the Rust Belt states, where their impact might receive little notice.
Gagnon asked about the possible effects of proposed tax reform on the Canada-U.S. trade relationship.
Stefanik said she was one of many legislators who spoke in opposition to the proposed border adjustment tax, which was dropped early in the process.
She supports the call to lower the corporate tax rate.
“We need to focus on U.S. competitiveness in the global economy,” she said.
In introductory remarks, Quebec Chamber of Commerce Federation Board Chairman Claude Gagnon said trade has been the historic basis of the relationship between the two countries and has grown even stronger between the province of Quebec and state of New York.
New York is Quebec’s most important trade partner, greater than the province’s trade with China, France, Germany, Mexico and the United Kingdom all put together.
That has led to many partnerships among chambers of commerce on both sides of the border, such as the COREX program that includes a business-to-business networking platform for firms in both Canada and the United States.
“These relations translate to establishment of one of world’s most competitive economic trading zones,” Gagnon said.
North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas said the chamber has worked to improve connectivity between northern New York and Quebec for more than 25 years.
A prime example is the 2001 Quebec-New York Corridor agreement between the Quebec Chamber and North Country Chamber, which was the launch of a vision for a single binational economic region, even with the inconvenience of a border in its midst.
“We have worked to make the North Country and Plattsburgh area a conducive supportive strategic beachhead for Quebec on the other side of the border,” Douglas said.
Many in the North Country recognize this region is in the “Quebec and Canada business.”
For many of them, what happens in Quebec City and Ottawa and Montreal has a more direct impact on a day-to-day basis than what happens across the United States.
“You drive our economy. You drive our future,” Douglas said. “We look north, not south.”
(Editor’s note: Four daily newspapers in the North Country — the Enterprise, Post-Star of Glens Falls, Watertown Daily Times and Press-Republican of Plattsburgh — are sharing content to better cover New York’s 21st Congressional District.)