Deep bench bolsters NAFTA trade team facing ‘unworkable’ U.S. demands
by Samantha Wright Allen (feat. Sarah Goldfeder)
The Hill Times
December 6, 2017
As Canada rejects what its chief NAFTA negotiator calls “entirely unworkable” U.S. proposals, a deep bench is working around the clock to keep the tripartite agreement alive.
After appearing before the House Trade Committee Monday, Steve Verheul said Canada has yet to offer a counterproposal on American demands some consider “poison pills”—among them attacking supply management, a five-year sunset clause, and aggressive rules of origin limits. But, he said his team “is considering” counter proposals on some.
Next week’s unofficial round in Washington should signal what Canada can expect when it meets with Mexico and the United States for the official sixth round of talks in Montreal in January.
While Canada must tread cautiously lest it legitimize unreasonable American offers, it should be creative with that dilemma and seriously consider countering in order to keep the U.S. at the table, suggested Eric Miller, president of Rideau Potomac Strategy Group.
“Sooner or later, obstinance is not going to get you to the finish line,” said Mr. Miller, who sits on a government trade advisory council. “We’re seeing an inflection point coming…To me, Montreal is going to be a pretty key meeting because you’re going to see whether there’s a pathway from a U.S. perspective.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.) has said Canada is “prepared for the worst.”
Here are a number of Canadian officials she and Mr. Verheul have relied on to keep the talks on track since renegotiations launched in August:
Considered Mr. Verheul’s No. 2 and effectively the NAFTA deputy chief negotiator, Martin Moen operates very much in the same vein as Canada’s calm lead, insiders say.
You never see him sweat, he’s nonplussed and has nerves of steel, said Sarah Goldfeder, a former staffer at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa and current principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group.
“He’s a legend. He’s been on every difficult file,” she said of Mr. Moen, Global Affairs Canada’s director general for North America and investment.
He built strong U.S. connections while stationed in Washington at the trade office in Canada’s embassy, starting in 2008. He stayed about five years and was back in Ottawa by 2014 working as a director general before the softwood lumber dispute heated up.
And like Mr. Verheul, he has been working with U.S. chief negotiator John Melle for decades.
He’s worked as Canada’s chief negotiator on softwood lumber and is the go-to on that file. As a subject-matter expert, he’s often answering calls from Ms. Freeland who during an August committee meeting called him her “partner in crime” on softwood.
His is also a big interdepartmental co-ordination role, insiders said, ensuring the smooth flow of negotiations and taking on more responsibility during the informal meetings.
He also previously lived in Beijing and speaks fluent Mandarin, added Earnscliffe’s Paul Moen, a former Liberal trade adviser.
Rounding out Canada’s senior team is Dany Carriere, North America director of trade negotiations at Global Affairs, sometimes described as the No. 3, though Unifor president Jerry Dias doesn’t see it that way. When he meets to talk trade with the “party of three,” it’s often with the three of them in the room, all very much operating as a team.
“Everyone is quite active in the conversation” and has their responsibilities, he said, adding it’s no question Mr. Verheul is the face and the one in control.
Previously the deputy chief negotiator for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and director of the TPP division, Ms. Carriere is described as deeply experienced and respected for her knowledge, but also cautious. At one point she worked as procurement lead for the department and has been working in trade since at least 2009, when she was deputy director of investment trade policy.
Ms. Carriere appeared before the committee Monday and while she didn’t speak, every so often Mr. Verheul would check in with her before responding to MP questions.
As deputy minister for international trade, Timothy Sargent acts as a link between the department and both Ms. Freeland and Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne (Saint-Maurice-Champlain, Que.).
Both ministers rely on his counsel, said Mr. Miller, calling Mr. Sargent “an incredibly smart, capable guy.”
A longtime public servant, Mr. Sargent has held posts in a number of departments. Before joining Global Affairs Canada in October 2016, he was associate deputy minister at Finance Canada and the department’s senior representative to the G7 and G20. He also worked for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada as associate deputy minister and advised former prime minister Stephen Harper from his senior post at the Privy Council Office.
Deputy ministers in “line departments” are a key part of the picture, said Paul Moen, and would include other priority areas like Innovation Canada’s John Knubley, in the post for five years, and Agriculture Canada’s Chris Forbes, who was appointed in May 2017.
They will be “heavy influencers,” valuable because they’ve held their own consultations and have expertise about potential upsides or downsides of proposals on the table.
“They’re not the core decision makers, but their view counts a lot,” he said.
Key table leads
Those leading labour, agriculture, and rules-of-origin tables are among the key emerging Canadian officials navigating controversial files during negotiations.
As Canada’s chief agricultural negotiator, Frédéric Seppey has been rebuffing American efforts to weaken supply management.
He is a “seasoned negotiator,” said Paul Moen, covering what observers note is a highly technical and sensitive subject that requires expertise.
Mr. Seppey has been in his Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada post for almost two years at the assistant deputy minister level, and was previously also the department’s director general of trade negotiations for more than three years, according to his LinkedIn profile. He’s Canada’s longtime chapter lead who has worked on both TPP and the CETA trade deal with the European Union, said Adam Taylor, former senior adviser to then-Conservative trade minister Ed Fast.
“He’s very familiar with the defensive interests that Canada has and therefore is a key person to watch… given U.S. demands in agriculture,” said Mr. Taylor.
Martin Thornell is heading rules of origin, a highly contentious file that has seen the U.S. offer “wholly unworkable” proposals, according to Mr. Verheul that would make the region less competitive. American negotiators have suggested increasing the material used in locally made vehicles from 62.5 to 85 per cent, of which 50 per cent would have to be U.S.-made.
Mr. Thornell was involved in CETA and TPP rules-of-origin negotiations, said former trade negotiator and NAFTA rules-of-origin lead Sandy Moroz, noting Mr. Thornell is a “very solid negotiator who knows his stuff.”
Mr. Thornell is listed in the government employee directory as a senior trade policy officer in the tariff and goods and market access department. He has worked as a senior adviser at Global Affairs Canada for more than a decade, according to his LinkedIn profile, and graduated from Queen’s University in 1981 with a bachelor of arts in political studies.
Employment and Social Development Canada’s director of bilateral and regional labour affairs Pierre Bouchard is leading the work at the labour table, on what Mr. Verheul called an “ambitious” proposal from Canada. Mr. Bouchard has been at the post at least since 2012, when he appeared before the House International Trade Committee in the role.
Unifor’s Jerry Dias didn’t mince word in assessing Mr. Bouchard’s work ethic.
“I’ve got a lot of time for Pierre. He’s kind of like a pitbull terrier with an abscessed tooth, so he has this way about him. He’s very strong on the issues and he’s incredibly determined with his team to really fix stuff,” said Mr. Dias, who is also in frequent direct contact with Ms. Freeland and Mr. Verheul.
Canada and Mexico are in line with International Labour Organization conventions but the United States is “well behind,” Mr. Verheul said, with only two of eight clauses ratified.
Mr. Bouchard’s responsible for negotiation and implementation of the labour provisions of all free trade agreements, including previously with TPP, as well as for the supervision of Canadian technical assistance in the labour area, according to a speaker’s biography for an International Labour Organization conference.