The organizers of FarmTech probably couldn’t have asked for more timely circumstances to have the Prime Minister who brought NAFTA forward share a keynote address.
Hours after Donald Trump said he wanted to expedite talks to replace or renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney took the stage in front of around 2,000 FarmTech attendees in Edmonton.
Not only was Mulroney a central figure in negotiating NAFTA, but he has close ties in the new U.S. administration, including a relationship with President Trump that goes back more than 20 years. He’s also friends with Wilbur Ross, who Trump has tasked with reshaping U.S. trade policy.
Prior to his speech at FarmTech, Mulroney, 77, dropped in at the RealAg studio to discuss the success of NAFTA, his relationship with Trump, and the advice he’s given Prime Minister Trudeau and his cabinet:
On the importance of NAFTA and trade with the U.S.:
“I think there’s general agreement that the two free trade deals (the Canada-U.S. trade deal, which Mulroney implemented, and NAFTA, which he introduced) have been responsible for much of the prosperity and many of the jobs Canada has enjoyed over the last 25 years. It’s been a foundational policy of Canada’s economy.”
What advice would you give Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Prime Minister Trudeau on NAFTA renegotiation?
“They approached me for some views, and I’m happy to provide them because this is a Canadian challenge. This is not a Conservative matter or a Liberal matter. This is a Canadian challenge. If something bad were to happen to NAFTA, it would be felt right across Canada almost immediately in a decline in investment, a decline in job creation, a greater degree in competitiveness in all of our external markets. This would be very tough.”
“It has to be handled delicately and diplomatically, yet firmly in the Canadian interest. This sounds contradictory, but can it be done? Of course it can. And I must say that Mr. Trudeau’s government is, in my judgment, handling it properly.”
Has the Prime Minister tapped you on the shoulder to be a liaison to Trump? What’s your relationship with the new president?
“I’ve had a relationship with President Trump for many years, but no, the Prime Minister didn’t tap me on the shoulder or anything like that…what I am is a Canadian, a former Prime Minister, who has some knowledge of this file. Some friends of mine are in his administration, so I help out when they ask me and where I can…”
Mulroney is friends with Wilbur Ross, Trump’s nominee for commerce secretary…
“Wilbur’s a very brilliant guy. Very sharp, and he’s going to be in charge of the negotiations. I think Chrystia Freeland will be able to deal with him very well. They know we’re not a target and we shouldn’t be a target. We can together enhance the already great relationship we have. That’s the way I look at it. I view this as an opportunity to do some good for both sides.”
Thoughts on the Conservative leadership race?
“Some of them call and come by and see me, and I’ve seen most of them. We have a chat about the campaign and so on, but I don’t follow it very closely. I can’t support anybody because as former Prime Minister and leader of the party that wouldn’t be proper. I follow it, but really from afar.”
We have a second generation Trudeau at 24 Sussex. Could we see another Mulroney take a run at becoming Prime Minister?
“All my kids are interested in politics, but I’m doubtful any one of them would want to see elected office…
“Justin did, for another party of course, but I think he’s doing well, as is Rona Ambrose, doing extremely well as leader of the Conservative party. I wish she’d been one of the candidates for the permanent leadership of the party.”