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Canada's Trade Minister Lobbies For NAFTA Revamp And 'A Good Deal'

Canada's Minister of International Trade François-Philippe Champagne.

The Trump Administration has held renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement as a priority from the campaign to present-day.

But it’s still not clear if enough issues can be agreed upon in a timely manner. 

Chief White House Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow told CNBC Monday that negotiations aren’t dead yet.

“We want a good deal, we want a good deal for the USA, and we’re looking through a whole bunch of issues, many of the items of that treaty have already been successfully renegotiated. Some of the items remain unfinished," Kudlow said. "There is a willingness on our side, and on Canada and Mexico, to get this done. But of course the United States has got to act in its own interest, as these other countries will, too.”

The International Trade Minister of one of those countries, Canada, spoke with me yesterday amid a visit to Cleveland

François-Philippe Champagne told me negotiations are certainly on the right track.

“We’ve been making progress, we’ve been able to close a number of chapters, we’ve been able to engage. Canada’s always going to be at the table, we’ve been open, we’ve been positive, and constructive in trying to find alternatives. You have seen perhaps on the rules of origin for the important auto sector," Champagne said. 

He said the fact discussions continue is a good sign, although there is a bit of a timing issue with political realities in the countries.

"There’s the Mexican election, the U.S. midterm election, but often times when I look at these trade agreements: they will be with us for decades, what matters I think under the circumstances we have is to have a good deal," Champagne said. "We know that NAFTA was negotiated what 24 years ago, about, e-commerce did not even exist, so the way we transact, the way we buy, the way we sell has changed significantly. So we need a modernized agreement which will reflect how the economy works, and also reflect the integrated nature of our supply chain.”

On the importance of negotiations for workers

“If you put it in very simple terms for workers, is that: how can we make North America more competitive, how can we build more in North America, and how can we sell together to the rest of the world? We’re doing these agreements because we want to protect the middle class, we want to bring more jobs into North America, and making sure that we build prosperity not only for now, but for decades to come.”

On why it's important to keep supply chains in mind

“The nature of our relationship is not one of buyer and seller, it’s one where we make the things together. So when you look at rules of origin you have to look at the entire supply chain between Canada, the United States, and Mexico, and I think that’s why you’ve heard people from the industry say ‘hold on for a minute, let’s make sure that we get this right, because this is going to impact jobs in every country.’ I think what we’ve come to realize, I think, with our U.S. colleagues is that a decision on one side of the border will have an impact on both sides…about 40% of everything Ohio does is exported to Canada, but 50% of that 40% is intracompany trade, so it’s parents selling to affiliates, it’s within the same company. So that’s why we need to keep that border as thin as possible…if you look at the auto sector…they would tell you that parts would that parts would move sometimes six to seven times across the border before they end up in a finished vehicle.”

On whether 'America First' is harming the trade relationship

“We’ve been engaging with mayors, congressman and women, Senators in the U.S. Senate, I think people realize now—the danger, Tony, is that we took each other for granted, and I think it’s about time that we invest in that relationship.”

Tony Ganzer has reported from Phoenix to Cairo, and was the host of 90.3's "All Things Considered." He was previously a correspondent with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, covering issues like Swiss banks, Parliament, and refugees. He earned an M.A. in International Relations (University of Leicester); and a B.Sc. in Journalism (University of Idaho.) He speaks German, and a bit of French.