Trump and Trudeau go head to head over NAFTA, what could go wrong?

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Start with a simpler problem than NAFTA: what if Trump is impeached because the Democrats win the coming U.S. midterm elections?

The anti-Trump crescendo keeps … crescending. The irrepressible Robert Reich now says impeachment's too good for him; his presidency must be "annulled." It's no metaphor; he means literally obliterated, as if it never was.

The result would be civil violence, at least, and unhealable divisions. This began with Nixon's impeachment in 1974. The payback festered ever since. If Trump's dumped, there will be payback for the payback on the payback.

So yes, he should go, but the way he came: electorally and democratically.

And remember that Trump wasn't elected by racists, who've always existed in the U.S. His key demographic was working-class voters in Rust Belt states who felt betrayed by Democrats such as Clinton and Obama, in ways like NAFTA. They turned to Trump not because they liked his style but out of desperation.

Now he seems to have delivered on one of his main pledges, which no one anticipated. In his bilateral manoeuvring with Mexico, he got the rules on wages for autoworkers changed in workers' favour. And so we come to NAFTA.

Let me start by stating my premise (and, yes, Trump's). NAFTA sucks.

The core of NAFTA, in my opinion, was leveraging the low wages Mexican workers received to either move production there from Canada and the U.S., or drive wages down under threat of relocating, once NAFTA opened the borders. It left a reign of economic terror, smashed unions and broken communities.

The leaders who signed those deals -- Reagan, Clinton, Mulroney, Chrétien -- knew what they were doing to their people and embraced it. When Mulroney ran for PC leader, he denounced free trade by describing exactly how it would hammer Canadian workers. Then, in power, he did it.

How bizarre is it that Trump undoes their vile work? It makes me squirrely because I have no explanation. Except he has no loyalties, not even to his class. (And why didn't he negotiate Mexico into paying for his wall, too?)

What other pluses are in his deal with Mexico? They cancelled NAFTA's dispute settlement process (Chapter 19), a useless cosmetic crock installed to allow Mulroney to claim victory when he signed the original deal. For reasons incomprehensible to me, Canada remains devoted to it.

They narrowed the grounds for the odious Chapter 11, which lets businesses sue governments if they don't profit as much as they'd fantasized, due to public policies. All in all, this is a better NAFTA than the one we had.

Yes, it's also true that they "double-crossed" us (Lawrence Martin) and "cannot be trusted" (Thomas Walkom). But what else is new? Foreign affairs is systematized lying and betrayal. You price that in beforehand.

There are other negatives. NAFTA's energy provision stops us from using our resources ourselves instead of sending them south. But we have bigger energy problems based on internal disagreements, and, with the rise of fracking, the U.S. is less likely to strongarm us.

Then there's Canadian supply management in dairy products, which Trudeau supports, against Trump's demand for no tariffs. I wish I understood it better. In principle, I think nations should control their own food supply, though I don't know if it's already too late, and if dairy is only a remnant of a possibility.

So if Canada chose to exit NAFTA because of dairy or even Chapter 19, well, that would be OK with me, too. Because frankly, I don't give much of a damn. We were screwed when we got in and once we did, we were sure to be screwed if we got out, due to how massively we've rejigged our economy.

Still, it's hard to picture the Trudeau team staying calm and carrying on as they walk away from NAFTA, since they've committed so ardently to it. It may be better for them to stay on till another crew (though none is yet in sight) arrives with clearer ideas on trading in a brave new NAFTA-less world. The get-out provisions in the betrayal deal even make that a bit less daunting.

And if it were up to me to decide? Back off, eh. I'm still working on that.

This article originally appeared in The Toronto Star

Image: Jim Winstead/Flickr

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