WORCESTER TELEGRAM: Rhetoric may disrupt US-Canada relations
As originally appearing in The Worcester Telegram

BY COLIN A. YOUNG, State House News Service


BOSTON – With anti-trade and protectionist sentiments taking a central spot in the U.S. presidential campaign, the ambassador of America’s ally to the north said Tuesday the rhetoric from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton threatens to “significantly disrupt” the relationship between U.S. and Canada.

David MacNaughton, a public relations professional and political strategist who became ambassador to the United States in March, said the two North American countries sometimes “take each other for granted too much” and allow “little things that are irritants” to become larger problems.

“For Canadians, it does concern us. Not so much in terms of the resilience of American democracy, but unfortunately some of the proposals that are being made would tend to significantly disrupt what I think is a remarkable relationship between our two countries,” MacNaughton said at a Hampshire House breakfast hosted by the New England Council. “When you have the kind of rhetoric that is taking place in the campaign in the United States at the present moment, I fear that we will lose sight of all the positive things we do.”

In Ottawa, the seat of Canadian government, there is concern that the “tough on trade” talk that has emerged as a centerpiece of the 2016 presidential election could lead to a diminished trade relationship between the United States and Canada, MacNaughton said.

The United States exported about $280 billion worth of goods to Canada last year, including $3.1 billion from Massachusetts, according to the New England Council. MacNaughton said there are 9 million American jobs that are dependent upon trade with Canada and about 75 percent of Canada’s exports are sent to the United States.

“Our economies are linked not just because we trade with each other, but our supply chains are integrated to the point that the prosperity of both countries is dependent on working more closely together, not less,” he said.

In August, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a “fireside chat” with his cabinet to discuss the current U.S.-Canada trade relationship and its future, Bloomberg News reported.

Reuters reported last month that MacNaughton and other Canadian diplomats have stepped up their outreach to American state and local leaders in an attempt to offer a rebuttal to Trump’s and Clinton’s talk of renegotiating trade deals, or even walking away from the North American Free Trade Agreement.

NAFTA, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, has been “an unqualified success” for Canada and has “no doubt” made the three North American countries – the U.S., Canada and Mexico – “significantly more prosperous,” MacNaughton said Tuesday.

But despite the economic benefits of NAFTA that American and Canadian leaders can point to, MacNaughton said social media has made it easier “to galvanize opposition” to trade deals, large-scale infrastructure projects and other initiatives.

“What happens is when the irritants and the rhetoric dials up, it makes it more difficult for us to fully participate in the relationship because, you know, the opposition — whether it be in the media or in the Parliament — will say, ‘Why are you doing that? The Americans are just poking you in the eye,’ ” MacNaughton said.

The ambassador talked about his own efforts in the late 1980s to generate support for a NAFTA precursor, including a campaign in which a group of powerful Canadian business executives pushed for the deal to be approved. That campaign was a success, MacNaughton said, but following that same playbook would not work today.

“The reality of life is today we have to find a better way to talk about trade, to talk about the benefits of the Canada-U.S. relationship and to actually become much, much more personalized than quoting big statistics,” he said.

Also on Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund warned that the anti-trade rhetoric in the United States and elsewhere could be a threat to global economic growth.

“With the seeming backlash against global trade in advanced economies, there is a pressing

need for policymakers to refocus the discussion toward the benefits of integration,” the IMF wrote in its 2016 World Economic Outlook. “The diminishing pace of new trade reforms in recent years, together with a rise in protectionist measures, appears to have contributed in part to the global slowdown in trade.”

Despite his concerns, MacNaughton on Tuesday declined to talk specifically about either candidate and said that he and the rest of the Canadian government stand ready to work with whomever is elected.

“My official line is that we have full confidence in the American people and we will work with whomever becomes president,” MacNaughton said. “That’s my line and I’m sticking to it.”

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