Canada's Premier Gets Boost from US Yielding on NAFTA US and Mexico Could Face Sanctions under Accords, Canada Will Not

By Mark Clayton, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 16, 1993 | Go to article overview
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Canada's Premier Gets Boost from US Yielding on NAFTA US and Mexico Could Face Sanctions under Accords, Canada Will Not


Mark Clayton, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


SCORE one foreign trade victory for Canada and a big political plus for Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell.

Whether it is baseball, hockey, or trade talks, Canadians like nothing better than besting the United States. And after months of butting heads with the US over how to enforce labor and environment side agreements to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Ms. Campbell's team last week refused to bend - and won.

US Trade Representative Mickey Kantor had insisted that trade sanctions were the only enforcement "teeth" acceptable to the US Congress to ensure that Mexico and Canada would uphold labor and environment standards. Canada disagreed, preferring fines or court action to sanctions.

After meeting in Ottawa with Canadian Trade Minister Tom Hockin on Thursday, Campbell assembled reporters and declared the side agreement talks had reached an impasse.

With time running out to sell the deal to Congress, the Clinton administration accepted the Canadian proposal the next day. While the US and Mexico can face trade sanctions under NAFTA enforcement measures, Canada will face only fines and court challenges. Canada's message

Mr. Hockin and Campbell "sent the US a message that 'this is as much juice as you're going to squeeze out of this lemon,' " says Gordon Ritchie, Canada's former trade negotiator, and an architect of the 1989 US-Canada Free Trade Agreement (FTA). "The worry was that if you give the Americans a {sanctions} club, sooner or later they'll get around to hitting you with it."

Public cynicism toward trade deals has deepened since the FTA went into effect. Canadian industries have found themselves in one trade dispute after another with the US. Whether the bickering over beer, pork, steel, autos, or lumber is justified or not, the public here has come to see these spats as the US bullying Canada.

Given that public mood, Campbell's hard line appears politically astute. "PM's hard-line bombshell proves a master stroke," trumpeted the Toronto Star newspaper on Saturday. It was, several analysts agreed, just what she needed to help distance her from former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who had been seen as too accommodating toward the US.

But perhaps even more important, Campbell's tough line satisfied business groups that had demonstrated that they were quite willing to see NAFTA fail rather than accept trade sanctions - groups whose backing is key to Campbell's reelection campaign.

"We certainly expressed volubly our concern over the use of trade sanctions," says Stephen Van Houten, who heads the Canadian Manufacturers' Association, which represents 2,600 companies and three-quarters of Canada's manufacturing output.

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