In Charlotte, Canadian Official Argues To Keep NAFTA, But Revise It
Updated Friday, Jan. 26, 2018
President Trump has threatened to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which he once called "the worst deal ever." As negotiations on the treaty continue this week, a top Canadian official visited Charlotte Thursday to argue that NAFTA actually is good for the US, Canada and Mexico - and for North Carolina.
Andrew Leslie is a member of parliament and a top advisor to Canada's prime minister Justin Trudeau on NAFTA. He says 70 Canadian companies operate in North Carolina, and 247,000 jobs here "directly depend on NAFTA and Canadian investments." Citing figures from last year, he said Canada is the top buyer of North Carolina exports.
"North Carolina exported $6.4 billion dollars worth of stuff to Canada and Canada bought $3.4 billion in return. So it's a 2 to 1 advantage to North Carolina because we're your biggest customer," Leslie said in an an interview at the Charlotte City Club uptown.
The retired general-turned-politician was in town to address the World Affairs Council of Charlotte. He's among a parade of Canadian officials speaking around the U.S. this month in support of the 24-year-old trade agreement. (Canadian science minister Kirsty Duncan addressed the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce in Raleigh Thursday afternoon.)
Leslie says some people have called it a "charm" campaign. He says the goal is "to try and help our American friends understand the facts that exist with NAFTA and the benefits it's had for all of our three economies."
Leslie gave a nod to one of President Trump's big complaints. He noted that North Carolina lost thousands of jobs after the agreement. And he acknowledged that NAFTA needs an update "to make sure that we don't leave anybody behind as happened sometimes in the past, so that we make sure that the workers, the business owners, the farmers, all have a sufficient voice and that we recognize their continuing value and make sure they share in the profits."
Leslie says one idea is to raise wages for Mexican workers, in hopes of somewhat leveling the playing field for U.S. and Canadian manufacturers.
After his lunchtime speech, Leslie answered questions - about a current trade dispute over passenger jets, slow border crossings, and about whether Canada benefited from the U.S. decision to drop out of the trans-Pacific free trade agreement. On that one, from a high school student, Leslie laughed and said he couldn't talk about negotiations.
From Charlotte, Leslie now heads to Montreal for where he'll sit in on the latest round of NAFTA negotiations.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct that 247,000 jobs in North Carolina depend on NAFTA and Canadian investments, though not all those jobs are at Canadian-owned firms.