July 15 (UPI) — In a speech to some 35 U.S. governors on Friday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged individual states to press for open trade policies as President Donald Trump‘s administration prepares to reopen potentially contentious negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement.
During the 20-minute address to the National Governors Association summer meeting in Rhode Island, Trudeau criticized protectionist trade policies — which were tied with Trump’s populist economic message during the 2016 campaign.
Though he did not single out Trump personally, Trudeau said restrictive trade policies would hurt employment on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border.
“Such policies kill growth,” Trudeau said. “And that hurts the very workers these measures are nominally intended to protect. Once we travel down that road, it can quickly become a cycle of tit-for-tat, a race to the bottom, where all sides lose.”
He cited statistics that show Canada is the No. 1 export target for 35 U.S. states, claiming that 9 million U.S. jobs are dependent on cross-border commerce.
“To boil this down to one point: Canada is your biggest, best customer — by far,” he said.
The speech came as Trump readies to re-enter negotiations with Canada and Mexico to alter NAFTA, the Clinton-era free trade deal Trump frequently criticized during the campaign because he said it puts U.S. workers and companies at a disadvantage.
NAFTA negotiations could begin as soon as next month, after the United States signals what portions of the agreement it wishes to reopen.
Trudeau said Canada remains open to modernizing the agreement, as well, but did not specify which portions his country would like to change.
“NAFTA isn’t perfect. No such agreement ever is,” Trudeau said “We think it should be updated and modernized, as it has been a dozen times over the past quarter century. And I have every expectation it will be — to the ultimate benefit of working people in all three partner countries.”