Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story understated the number of Canadian manufacturers operating in Mexico.
A meeting Feb. 27 between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and key players in the auto supply industry suggested possible federal-industry collaboration in efforts to shield Canada’s auto industry from disruptions threatened in the United States.
The roundtable discussion with high-ranking officials from the auto parts sector included Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association (APMA) President Flavio Volpe, Martinrea International Executive Chair Rob Wildeboer, Magna International CEO Don Walker and others. Trudeau brought with him Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s point person on NAFTA.
“It was a good listening session from both sides,” Volpe told Automotive News Canada immediately after the one-hour meeting. “The prime minister has a very good understanding of the dynamics that affect the industry, from trade to the consumer to currency.”
Volpe said Trudeau has “intellectual curiosity” about the industry.
“He really wanted perspective from us on what the future of Canadian auto looks like and what the Canadian government’s role could be,” Volpe said. “We have a prime minister coming to the industry and saying, ‘Talk to me.’”
Auto parts makers are concerned about economic policies that the new Trump administration might implement.
Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan have called for a border tax on goods imported to the United States. The value of the tax ranges anywhere between 20 and 35 per cent.
Linamar CEO Linda Hasenfratz, who wasn’t at the meeting, previously raised her concerns about the possible tax in an open letter to Trump, published on Automotive News Canada’s website, noting that an auto part crosses the border several times before it ends up in a finished vehicle.
Trump has also pledged to renegotiate NAFTA and withdraw altogether if he feels a new deal doesn’t present American workers with what he calls a fair deal.
Monday, Walker told Trudeau that the integrated North American auto industry needs protection.
As the meeting began, Trudeau said in video posted by the Canadian Press that the group was going to discuss "how we can look at perhaps some new opportunities with our neighbours to the south or, at least, demonstrate the high level of integration between our economies, particularly in the auto sector. [It] needs to be continued and protected and recognized as a tremendous driver of jobs and opportunity on both sides of the border."
'Great first date'
Trudeau and Trump already met in person Feb. 13 in Washington and talked trade.
“We expressed that from our perspective they had a great first date,” Volpe said. “They described for us the very mature and deep relations they’ve been able to build in a very short period of time with the new U.S. government. All of that is very important from an investment perspective.”
The discussion Monday also touched on the role of the Canadian government, including co-investment in and taxation of the auto industry but “trade was the focus,” Volpe said.
“They asked us what we thought was important in current and upcoming discussion on Canada-U.S. relations,” Volpe said.
The executives told Trudeau that Canada is a good partner for the United States and Mexico, where about 65 Canadian companies operate about 120 auto parts facilities.
“NAFTA has worked for us in general and it works for the automotive industry,” Volpe said.
The executives told Trudeau that Canada’s NAFTA strategy “should be guided by the facts.”
“There’s no spin required from the auto sector and we’re willing to support their every effort with facts and figures,” Volpe said. “We’re in a stage where we’re all still training for the run and no one has fired a starter’s pistol. What they described to us is very senior-level, formal and informal, relationships being built.”