Former finance minister tapped to represent Quebec in NAFTA negotiations

Former provincial Finance Minister Raymond Bachand will be Quebec’s chief negotiator for the renegotiations of NAFTA.

Bachand has been a special advisor to the provincial government regarding the North American Free Trade Agreement since February. His mandate will be to represent Quebec in provincial and federal bodies, in business and in unions, in order to defend Quebec’s interests during the talks, which will be launched in mid-August.

“I am very happy to continue what I started in recent months,” he said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that included Quebec’s Economic Minister Dominique Anglade.

“It is either the largest non-event in a long time, or the most important economic issue in Canadian history in 25 years,” he said, adding that the challenge of modernizing the agreement with the United States and Mexico will certainly be “exciting.”

Quebec is trying to replicate the experience of the Canada-EU Free Trade Agreement (CETA).

The Charest government then named former Premier Pierre Marc Johnson as chief negotiator for Quebec. After eight years of negotiations Johnson and his team had billed more than $3 million to Quebec taxpayers.

For the sake of transparency, Bachand disclosed that he will bill, like Johnson, $400 an hour to the Crown. He expects that negotiations will take less time than Johnson did.

“These are billion-dollar agreements,” Anglade said. “For me, the game is definitely worth the cost and what you need to have most, is the best person to do it.”

“Honestly, we can not skimp on the billions in trade and the thousands of jobs that depend on this deal, “she continued.

Quebec will champion supply management

In 2015, according to the Ministry of the Economy, Quebec exported US$59.4 billion to the United States, accounting for more than 72 percent of the province’s international exports.

Anglade stressed the importance of going on the offensive so that the interests of Quebec, notably on supply management and mobility between the two countries, are defended.

“We chose this (supply management) system a number of years ago and we want to ensure that it is maintained in the negotiations we are going to have,” she said.

The Canadian quota and price control system is designed to ensure a stable income for milk, egg, and poultry producers despite market fluctuations.

In April, in Wisconsin, U.S. President Donald Trump criticized the dairy industry and accused Canada of taking advantage of dairy, lumber, and energy in the United States.

Anglade said it was also imperative for Quebec to defend the cultural exception, the right of a country to exclude culture from trade because it is not considered a commodity.

Quebec will keep its focus on the strong sectors of its economy, such as artificial intelligence and innovation, life sciences, aerospace, wood and agri-food, she said. Adding that new technologies and e-commerce are expected to be included in the new agreement.

It would be hazardous to predict which of the Quebec sectors will be the first beneficiaries of a new agreement with the United States, Bachand added, as it is impossible to identify possible “losers”. The government does not intend to produce any impact studies.

“I do not see why there would be losses in any sector,” he said.

The government has calculated that, with the agreement with the European Union, 16,000 jobs will be created each year, mainly in the aerospace and agri-food sectors. But the dairy industry and the cheese production industry are negatively affected by an additional 17,700 tonnes of European cheese entering Canada. Exports of European cheese to Canada will almost triple, creating panic among cheese producers in Quebec.

Turbulence on the horizon

Obviously, the negotiation process that will start next month will be “special,” Bachand said.

“There will be political and media turbulence in the coming months coming from senators, congressmen and the White House, in a negotiation that will not be exactly the same as the others. I think we have to respect the way everyone leads the game, “he said.

For it is indeed a joust that begins, but a joust between “brother” countries, he added. “There are family squabbles, but there is always a reconciliation.”

In a combative message recorded on Friday, Trump said he would abolish NAFTA “forever” if it did not get “total” renegotiation.

Bachand, who is a strategic advisor to Norton Rose, admitted that he is a “particularly quiet” person.

The former minister, who now chairs the Institut du Québec, left politics in 2013 after failing in his attempt to become leader of the Liberal Party of Quebec. Philippe Couillard won the race to succeed Jean Charest.

Raymond Bachand was also President and Chief Executive Officer of the Fonds de solidarité de la FTQ for four years in the late 1990s.

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