One election down and two to go before the stage is set for the future of North American trade

by

Opinion

The first milestone toward gaining a clearer picture of the future of North America trade was reached in Mexico this week, as Claudia Sheinbaum, former mayor of Mexico City and an environmental engineer, won the presidential election in a landslide victory.

Sheinbaum, a member of the left-wing and populist Morena party, was endorsed by outgoing Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

With the Mexican presidential election completed, it leaves the U.S. election on November 4, 2024 and a Canadian election between now and October 2025.  All three countries are members of the CUSMA (USMCA in the U.S. and T-MEC in Mexico) agreement, with elections in all three countries before the upcoming July 2026 review date adding to the drama and uncertainty around the deal.

LISTEN TO JACOB SHAPIRO ON THE MEXICAN ELECTION

Although the latest iteration of the free trade agreement in North America was successfully signed on November 30, 2018, the clause that the agreement would be reviewed six years after coming into force on July 1, 2020 presents challenges at a time when protectionist and interventionist sentiment is rising globally, especially in the United States.

When the deal was signed, López Obrador, U.S. President Donald Trump, and Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada were able to find common ground after very difficult negotiations. With Sheinbaum’s election, it’s technically possible that’s the last of the changes to the lineup… but unlikely.

While the review will officially begin on July 1, 2026, Canada’s former chief trade negotiator Steve Verheul told the House of Commons trade committee this week that he expects the process will likely begin a year prior, which could overlap with the last of the three elections, in Canada.

With both parties pressing for tariffs and other protectionist legislative tools in the lead-up to the U.S. election this fall, neither a Biden nor Trump victory makes life easier for Mexico or Canada when the formal review does take place. If the U.S. is going to be aggressive in seeking new concessions, the review could be a difficult process for Canada and Mexico. It will be in both their interests to promote the benefits of a North America-wide approach to trade. Whether there’s a Republican or Democrat in the White House, both Canada and Mexico will also be under pressure to increase scrutiny and, in some cases, limit trade with China.

As for the Canadian election, polling has shown a strong Conservative majority for nearly a year, but leader Pierre Poilievre has not really indicated what his trade policy or emphasis will be at this point in the cycle. If elected, will the Conservatives push for market access and growing exports, or will they catch the trend of protectionism and focus on protecting domestic jobs instead? What about their position on C-282 — the legislation aimed at taking supply management off the table in any trade talks — and the possibility of it becoming legislation as it has reached the committee stage in the Senate?

What we know for sure is Sheinbaum will now lead Mexico towards this next round of trade talks. Given her endorsement by AMLO, we can likely expect a similar theme to her politics. In six months from now, the second key leadership race will be decided with the U.S. election — then we only have to wait for Canada to choose our PM for the stage to be set.

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