America’s mercurial, combative, antagonistic and games-playing president fancies himself a brilliant negotiator.
But I’m betting he’s going to get fleeced by Canada’s dull and diligent trade team, and so successfully that he never even realizes he’s been had.
I was just in Washington, D.C., and President Donald Trump’s trade talk is still the talk-of-the-town, which is the way it was a year ago when I was also there and everybody was worried about Trump’s threats to tear up trade deals and start trade battles.
He had pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership on his first day in power and had just focused his fury on Canada’s supply-managed dairy industry on a visit to Wisconsin.
This was rattling both Democratic and Republican lawmakers and also beginning to worry U.S. farmers and farm groups.
One year later, that anxiety has grown large with farmers now realistically fearing the loss of markets in China and Mexico, and maybe Canada, if Trump actually begins his threatened trade war with China and tears up the North American Free Trade Deal.
Some members of congress seem fed up and frustrated with the escalating anti-trade rhetoric and don’t know what to do about it.
However, this is all part of Trump’s method, I and many others suspect, with him thinking that he can ratchet up the tension, gain the initiative, pressure opponents (that’s how he views trading partners) and then solve the whole thing with a deal that gives him a victory to proclaim.
He might get those victories to proclaim, but I’m guessing they will be political victories and not trade victories over Canada, Mexico, China and anybody else that he tussles with.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has faced Trump’s belligerence with dullness, diligence and restraint, which looks like the perfect counter to Trump.
The guy doesn’t seem to have much of an attention span, doesn’t appear to pay much attention to detail and doesn’t even necessarily seem to care about the concrete results of what he’s doing.
That plays into Canada’s favour. It can’t be much fun to endlessly negotiate a deal with people who don’t respond to provocations, and I imagine these NAFTA renegotiations are becoming something he’s sick of hearing about. Reports say U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer considers NAFTA a distraction from the more important China issues, so he won’t be pressing hard for Trump to block a deal being made.
According to U.S. politicians I heard from in Washington, Canada is sticking to its guns on protecting supply management, which is the only agricultural sticking point in NAFTA that any of them mentioned.
However, Canada is always willing to stay at the negotiating table and talk, talk, talk about a new deal. That must be a blessing and a curse to the U.S. negotiators — a never-ending negotiation.
So I’m guessing that Trump will wait to be offered something small that he can declare as a win and then agree to a new deal “that I’m very proud of.”
What could Canadian negotiators offer on dairy? Perhaps they’ll agree to stop exports of some surplus milk protein products left by fat extraction and processing. That wouldn’t be a disaster, and it’s a complicated enough issue to bore most people on both sides of the border and fade as an issue.
For a drama-loving character like Trump, this must be getting very old.
Perhaps after facing Canada’s dull approach for long enough, U.S. negotiators will be able to fudge the situation enough to satisfy the president’s ambitions and get the deal done. Trump will get his victory celebration, but the dull Canadians will probably find some way to enjoy a win in a not-too-demonstrative manner.