A modernized North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that will benefit all parties involved is a key motivation behind the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies — Canada’s (ACEC) decision to join the Coalition to Keep Trade Free, as the push to find political common ground takes centre stage.
John Gamble, president and CEO of ACEC – Canada, said a major factor to becoming part of the coalition, which is being led by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, was driven by the uncertainty around NAFTA negotiations and the impact U.S. tariffs will have across the engineering sector and the economy.
“We want a fair, balanced agreement that allows both sides of the border to be successful, one that doesn’t burden consumers of both goods and services with unnecessary tariffs,” said Gamble.
ACEC joined the coalition just days before a bilateral trade agreement was reached between the U.S. and Mexico on Aug. 28. Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland headed to Washington the following day to re-join negotiations with the United States and Mexico. As of press deadline, no negotiation between Canada and the U.S. had been reached, however, it was reported that positive progress was being made.
Gamble acknowledged NAFTA was “overdue for a revisit. NAFTA predates the Internet but it has been a success story. Despite what President (Donald) Trump says, it has been very good for the U.S. In fact, U.S. exports to Canada are up almost three-fold since NAFTA was signed back in the early ‘90s.
It’s important we get it together because we’re seeing an emerging China into the global marketplace
— John Gamble
Association of Consulting Engineering Companies — Canada
“Collectively the NAFTA partners are about 23 per cent of the global economy so it’s not just good for Canada, it’s good for the United States, it’s good for Mexico and it’s good for North America.”
He said news of the agreement between Mexico and the U.S. was not “entirely unexpected.”
“He (Trump) did make reference to the fact that, to his credit, he’s open to either a separate bilateral agreement with Canada or being folded into the same agreement,” he said. “He made it very clear that his next priority is to turn his attention to Canada and get a deal done there. If you strip away his hyperbole the words are encouraging. I have to note, however, his announcement is almost devoid of details.
“It’s important we get it together because we’re seeing an emerging China into the global marketplace and it’s important we have our backyard in order.”
The coalition helps organizations mobilize at the local, state/provincial and federal levels to advocate for freer trade within North America and around the world, as well as to ensure a successful renegotiation of NAFTA for continued economic prosperity for Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, indicates a release issued by ACEC.
NAFTA creates a business environment that allows ACEC – Canada members to be successful, Gamble said, adding it also allows global competitiveness.
“We have a lot of firms that are active on both sides of the border — some Canadian owned, some American owned — and we want the ability for these companies to conduct business across the border with minimal red tape and minimal interruption,” said Gamble.
Not only are Canadian consulting engineering companies competitive under free trade, but they also deliver the trade-enabling infrastructure that connects communities and allows all sectors to efficiently access markets, Gamble noted.
“Trade doesn’t just happen,” he said. “Whether it’s physical infrastructure like roads, bridges, ports, airports or telecommunications, that’s also very important to having a very diversified and cost-effective economy.”
The biggest issue for the association is the impact on the client sector. Free trade is in the best interests of clients, Gamble pointed out.
“It’s very important to us that the manufacturing sector, the energy sector, the natural resource sector, the telecommunications sector as well as the engineering construction sector have access to markets and that the U.S. is easily able to export into Canada as part of our supply chain,” said Gamble. “This is a two-way deal and part of it is selling things to market and part of it is coming up with a cost effective and efficient supply chain.”
He added, “We need to reach out directly to our counterparts, the people we are actually doing business with, the people who are our markets, who are part of our supply chain and make sure that they know the facts and not the out of context anecdotes the president seems to be so fond of.
“If we have a successful client sector, we are going to have a successful consulting engineering sector.”