TORONTO -- Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne met with Canadian automotive executives and labour leaders in Toronto on Friday to strategize about how best to approach a potential renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The group, which also included Minister of Economic Development and Growth Brad Duguid, discussed the importance of emphasizing the interconnectedness of the North American automotive industry. The approach has emerged as a key tactic in countering trade pressures from the United States government.
Not only has President Donald Trump called for a tweaking of NAFTA, at the very least, the U.S. Congress is also considering a border tax that could affect both the supply chain and final sticker price of vehicles. “Buy America” policies being considered by multiple states — including New York, a key trade partner with Ontario — are an additional pressing concern.
Maintaining product affordability and economic sustainability were two important aspects of industry interconnectivity raised in the talks.
“Free trade and efficient, secure borders allow Ontario and U.S. companies to make world-class products together,” Wynne said at a press conference after the meeting. “The interconnectedness between the American industry and the Ontario industry is absolutely critical.”
Wynne said that a primary purpose of the meeting was to ensure that government and industry are aligned in their objectives.
Duguid added that he has so far encountered understanding on this issue in discussions with his American counterparts.
“There’s this perception that we think Americans don’t know as much about Canada as we know about the U.S.,” Duguid said. “They are very aware that Ontario in particular, and Canada, is for the most part their number one international customer. We’re crucial to their economic vitality, and we’re crucial to jobs in the U.S.
“There are about nine million jobs [across all industries] in the U.S. that rely on that unfettered border, and that’s the pitch that we make and will continue to make to our counterparts to the south,” he said.
Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association, called the meeting a “good, substantive discussion” on how to communicate the importance of the industry’s interconnectivity during any upcoming talks. He added that Mexico was also discussed during the meeting, with an eye to the significant increase in Canadian investment there in recent years.
“I think everybody shares the opinion now that anxiety levels are down because the post-election vacuum is being filled by public statements that are automotive-friendly in Washington,” Volpe said. “But there still is lots of work to be done to make sure that the lawmakers in state capitals and lawmakers in Washington understand the flow of American goods this way, the flow of American investment this way, is more than matched by Canadian investment into the U.S.”
While the possibility that the United States may attempt to negotiate separate trade deals with Canada and Mexico has been raised, Volpe said that Canadian stakeholders see the tripartite arrangement of NAFTA as being an important one for the industry at large.
“I think everybody is committed to trilateralism unless the Earth moves, and then we’ll deal with it differently if the need arises,” he said. “But we’re all looking at this as all three countries help to manufacture cost-competitive vehicles in competition with the other major regions in the world. Ideally, we maintain that balance.”
Attendees in addition to Wynne, Duguid and Volpe were:
--Ray Tanguay, automotive adviser to Industry Canada
--Hugo Cameron, executive lead for U.S. trade engagement, Ministry of International Trade
--Stephen Carlisle, president of General Motors of Canada
-- Jerry Chenkin, outgoing CEO of Honda Canada
-- Dave Gardner, incoming CEO of Honda Canada
-- Mark Buzzell, CEO of Ford of Canada
-- Fred Volf, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada
-- Teresa Piruzza, director of external affairs and public policy for FCA Canada
-- Don Walker, CEO of Magna International
-- Linda Hasenfratz, CEO of Linamar Corp.
-- Rob Wildeboer, chairman of Martinrea
-- Terry Campbell, COO of Woodbridge Group
-- Jerry Dias, president of Unifor
-- Mark Nantais, president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association
-- David Worts, executive director of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association