Guest Commentary

Don’t discard NAFTA — strengthen it

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland talks with United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, right, and Mexico's Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal after delivering statements to the media during the sixth round of negotiations for a new North American Free Trade Agreement in Montreal, Monday, Jan. 29, 2018.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland talks with United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, right, and Mexico's Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal after delivering statements to the media during the sixth round of negotiations for a new North American Free Trade Agreement in Montreal, Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. AP

The sixth round of the North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiation is taking place in Montreal, Québec this week. It could be a decisive moment in these negotiations: Several key issues are being discussed by the three parties, and many stakeholders from the United States, Mexico and Canada are in the province’s metropolis. For instance, on Monday, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and nine other U.S. chambers of commerce joined their Canadian and Mexican counterparts at an event organized by the Montreal Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. Together, 25 chambers made a strong statement, signing a joint declaration in support of an updated NAFTA and what it will mean in terms of job creation, innovation and competitiveness.

Trade has always been a key driver in relations between countries. It spurs economic development, but also innovation and job creation in integrated economies. The Great Lakes region — the third-largest economy in the world with its $6 trillion-plus GDP — illustrates that point clearly. Trade within the region, which includes Ontario and Québec, has quadrupled under NAFTA, reaching $1.3 trillion. Strategic industries like agro-food, automotive, aerospace, aluminum and steel depend on that free flow of goods to thrive and compete globally. We build, grow things together, grow things together and innovate together.

Quebec has been a key partner in that success story. Our bilateral trade with the U.S. topped $66 billion in 2016, with a third of all goods imported by Québec coming from the United States. Direct investment from Québec companies has created more than 80,000 jobs in the Midwest alone. On both sides of the border, millions of hard-working families have benefited from our deep economic integration over the past three decades.

None of this would be possible without a stable business and regulatory environment. For a quarter of a century, NAFTA has provided a framework securing and deepening that stability, which in turn has facilitated collaboration in other sectors (think of protecting the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, for instance). Above all, NAFTA’s framework has opened up opportunities for workers, innovators and job creators, without whom the global competitive position of North America would have been jeopardized.

The overall objective in these negotiations must be improving a winning formula, not discarding it. To that end, the Great Lakes region can count on Québec remaining a willing and constructive partner.

Jean-François Hould is Quebec Representative in the Midwest.

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