Renew North American trade deal to defend democratic values: U.S. chamber CEO

By James McCarten   

Business Operations Government business community Business leaders CUSMA democratic values economic growth trade deal USMCA

WASHINGTON _ Canada’s trade deal with the U.S. and Mexico is as much about Western values as maximizing economic growth, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Monday as she urged business leaders from across the continent to ensure the agreement survives.

Suzanne Clark, the chamber’s president and CEO, was the keynote speaker at the North American Business Summit in Washington, D.C., where the future of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement was a major preoccupation.

The agreement, reached in 2020, includes a sunset clause that requires all three countries to sit down and review it every six years to ensure everyone is still satisfied.

That deadline is still three years away, but the time is now for the business community to stand up and ensure the USMCA survives, Clark said.


And not just for the shared economic prosperity of all three countries, she added, but for the sake of democracy itself.

“If we, together, don’t define global leadership _ if we don’t lead on global challenges and meet the opportunities of the future _ others like China and Russia will fill that void,” Clark said.

She acknowledged the ever-present “irritants” that continue to prompt questions about just how committed the three countries are to both the letter and the spirit of the deal.

In the 33 months since USMCA went into effect in July 2020, 17 disputes have been launched, compared with a total of 77 initiated over the course of NAFTA’s 25-year lifespan.

The U.S. remains unhappy with how Canada has allocated the quotas that give American dairy producers access to markets north of the border. Canada and Mexico both took issue with how the U.S. defined foreign auto content. And Canada and the U.S. oppose Mexico favouring state-owned energy providers.

“We have to resolve these issues not only to prove that USMCA works, not only to fill the potential of the deal, but also _ most importantly _ to prove that we can do it, that we are committed to making this agreement strong,” Clark said.

She didn’t mention Donald Trump by name, but the former president, the principal instigator of the effort to renegotiate NAFTA, is already the perceived front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination.

Whatever the threat to the USMCA, be it an unfriendly U.S. administration or a politically fraught review process, it’s vital that “the economic case is indisputable, that no one can say this agreement isn’t maximizing North American competitiveness.”

The agreement underpins the ability of the three countries to collaborate on priorities like food and energy security, resilient supply chains, transparency, stability and due process, she added.

“When these factors are not present, investment can’t thrive, the economies cannot grow, jobs cannot be created and we do not enjoy prosperity,” Clark said.

“When they are absent, corruption thrives, ambiguity reigns, investment dollars flee and tax revenues plummet.”

Corporate leaders across the continent have an additional challenge, however: confronting the growing public perception that they’re the bad guys, out to do little more than line their own pockets and those of their shareholders.

“I think it’s important that we change the rhetoric where the word business is a bad word, or making money or growing your company is a bad thing to do,” said Gerald Schwebel, executive vice-president of the Texas-based cross-border International Bank of Commerce.

“Business is good. Trade is good. Let’s deliver that message over and over again.”


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