What Do Presidents Clinton, Bush & Obama Have in Common?

by Scotty Greenwood

The three former presidents all appointed pro-NAFTA ambassadors who are offering their assistance as renegotiations on the trade pact kick off this week in Washington, D.C.

There’s no question that stakeholders in the United States, Canada and Mexico have concerns about protectionist rhetoric regarding NAFTA, which has been a successful agreement for all three countries for decades, despite its old age. Thankfully, the U.S. president who once referred to NAFTA as “the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere” has pivoted to assigning a team to work through modernizing the agreement.

Canada has signaled it will fight hard against any move to remove the dispute settlement mechanism from the deal. Mexico is nervous that its status as an export powerhouse is at risk.

Against this backdrop, a group of former U.S. ambassadors to Canada and Mexico recently weighed in, sending a letter to the president urging a measured and smart approach to updating the deal.

The Aug. 4 letter was signed by former U.S. envoys to Canada — and advisory board members of the Canadian American Business Council — Jim Blanchard, Gordon Giffin, David Wilkins and David Jacobson. They were joined by U.S. envoys to Mexico Jeffery Davidow, Antonio Garza, James Robert Jones, John Negroponte, Carlos Pascual and Earl Anthony Wayne. They were all appointed by or served under Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and come from both Republican and Democratic backgrounds.

“We believe it is appropriate to align NAFTA with the challenges, opportunities, and technologies of the 21st century, including preparing our workers for the new jobs ahead,” they wrote to President Donald Trump.

“With so much of our nation’s prosperity and security dependent on our relationships with our North American neighbors, we believe the forthcoming negotiations with Canada and Mexico should be conducted in a manner that recognizes our shared values and does not put these realities at risk, and with your support, we believe this goal is eminently achievable.”

The ambassadors ended their letter by pledging their willingness to “assist constructively in this effort.”

Hopefully the president will accept the ambassadors’ offer of help. The next U.S. ambassador to Canada, Kelly Craft, has already begun reaching out to her predecessors for advice, support and guidance.

The three countries’ chief negotiators get down to business on Wednesday, with the next renegotiations slated for September in Mexico. Like any negotiation process, there are sure to be fireworks and difficult moments behind the scenes. But if the CABC’s suggestions on how to enhance the deal are heeded, an overhauled NAFTA could be a meaningful win-win-win.