VOL. 132 | NO. 136 | Tuesday, July 11, 2017
By Bill Dries
Business crossing the U.S.-Canadian border and the uncertainty about U.S. immigration policy six months into President Donald Trump’s administration dominated a meeting last week between about 30 Memphis business leaders and the head of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
The meeting at the Greater Memphis Chamber’s Downtown headquarters was part of a two-day visit to the city by a delegation led by Canadian Chamber president and CEO Perrin Beatty.
Although the meeting was closed, Greater Memphis Chamber president Phil Trenary later said the need for a cost-effective, efficient flow at the border was a dominant topic for the local business leaders.
“Our business leaders desire to see a very free flow of people and talent,” Trenary said. “Whether it be students or professionals or different things driving innovation in our economy, we need to do everything we can to make that easier, not more difficult.”
Trenary pointed to $1.4 billion in exports from the Memphis region to Canada.
“We don’t want to do anything at all to harm that,” he said. “Let’s not mess this things up, because it’s critical to our trade here.”
Beatty is a former member of Canada’s House of Commons and served in the cabinets of three prime ministers at posts that include those responsible for border security. He is also former president and CEO of the Name Search
Watch Service“>Canadian Broadcasting Corp. before becoming leader of the chamber in 2007.
Beatty said trade is more than putting imports in one column of a ledger and exports in another. It’s an integration of businesses he says is illustrated by FedEx pilots in Memphis who train on flight simulators made in Quebec.
Another example is the CN rail corridor that moves goods through Memphis.
“And because the North American industrial base is so deeply integrated today with companies having assets in all three countries … they are going to be looking at how do we ensure that as a business we remain competitive with what’s taking place around the rest of the world,” Beatty said. “The North American industrial base is under siege. We should be looking at how do we strengthen it. It’s not, ‘We should be erecting tariff barriers around America,’ but rather, ‘We should be looking at ways of making our own businesses more efficient and more competitive.’”
Beatty said Canadian business wants the same outcome as Memphis businesses as the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement is about to begin.
“We just don’t know at this point what Washington is looking for,” he said. “The challenge in the short term is that business needs some certainty. … Businesspeople by their nature are very adaptable and they work within a system as long as they know what the rules are. They may prefer one system over another, but the most important things are to know at least what the system is and what the rules are.”
As the Canadian business leaders were in Memphis, Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto discussed NAFTA in their first face-to-face meeting since Trump’s election. They talked at the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany. After their private discussions, Trump said the renegotiation of NAFTA is making “very good process.”
Mexican foreign minister Luis Videgaray, who was present at the private discussions, said later that Mexico expects talks to begin in August – the earliest possible date – with a goal of generating agreements by the end of the year.
Videgaray said that was the consensus between the two governments. But after the meeting, the White House released a recording of Trump’s weekly address in which Trump said his goal was “total renegotiation” of NAFTA.
“And if we don’t get it, we will terminate – that is, end – NAFTA forever,” he added in the video, which may have been recorded before he met with Pena Nieto.
Videgaray used the specific term “modernization” to describe the goal from Mexico’s point of view. Beatty used the term “modernization” as well.
“If you are looking for something that modernizes NAFTA and builds upon what we have, or something that says we’re going to take whole chunks out and renegotiate them – in a case like that, it could up to two or three years,” Beatty said.
He also suggested a modernization could involve lifting sections on e-commerce and intellectual property from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and making those provisions part of NAFTA.
He pointed out e-commerce wasn’t around when NAFTA debuted in 1994.
“Many of these issues were negotiated in the context of the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Beatty said. “We could lift those out of that agreement, where there already exists agreement among the three countries, bring it into NAFTA, use that to broaden and modernize NAFTA as opposed to having to start from the very beginning and negotiate everything.”