As trade ministers kicked-off the fourth round of negotiations to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement in Alexandria, Virginia on October 11, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau traveled to nearby Capitol Hill to meet with members of the House Ways and Means Committee in a closed-door session to discuss mutual objectives of a renegotiated agreement.
Based on news reports, Trudeau reminded the key U.S. lawmakers with jurisdiction over the nation’s trade that Canada is the United States’ largest customer. Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX)’s opening remarks acknowledged the importance of the beneficial trading relationship and recognized Canada as an important U.S. ally. Noting, however, that even strong relationships have their challenges, the Chairman expressed a hope for progress on issues related to customs barriers, intellectual property protection and greater market access for U.S. dairy producers.
Trudeau has taken a unique and unprecedented approach of making his case for preserving the U.S.-Canadian trade relationship directly with U.S. governors and legislative members, who respectively, have a high stake in supporting or key role in approving the deal. In July, Trudeau delivered the keynote address at the National Governors Association’s summer meeting, marking the first time a foreign head of state addressed the organization. His message in that venue was largely in defense of NAFTA, where he argued there was a need to update and modernize – but not abandon – the agreement.
Trudeau’s overtures with state government heads and district-based legislators demonstrates a deep understanding of U.S. internal trade politics and suggests a strategic effort to salvage a trade arrangement that is of great value to Canada. His challenge in the coming months is to convince similarly situated interest groups residing south of his nation’s border that NAFTA’s value is mutual – and outright withdrawal is option they will strongly oppose.