In July, the Trump administration released a 17-page document that listed the goals it hoped to achieve while renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.
One of those goals called for new rules to govern the trade of services, such as telecommunications and financial advice, as well as digital goods like music and e-books that were not originally included in the 1994 agreement.
“When NAFTA began, Amazon was just a river,” said Louise Blais, consul general of Canada.
Blais was in Columbia recently to raise awareness about the importance of South Carolina’s trade relationship with Canada on the eve of the pact’s renegotiation.
“What happens in Washington will have an impact regionally and locally,” Blais said. “I’m here to grow the relationship while at the same time look for opportunities to make NAFTA better. It’s a 25-year-old agreement that needs modernization. ”
South Carolina exports $3.5 billion worth of goods to Canada annually and hosts more than 750,000 visitors each year. Tourism accounts for $335 million annually.
Automobiles are the top export from the state, reaching $650 million each year. Blais said the automotive industry is the perfect example of the success of NAFTA.
“Advanced manufacturing is important to not just Canada, but to the United State and Mexico,” Blais said. “NAFTA helps integrate the supply chain and make whatever is being built and assembled in North America that much more competitive globally.”
Blais said South Carolina has benefited partially from what NAFTA has allowed.
“BMW’s growth in the state comes from sourcing parts from both Canada and Mexico,” Blais said. “It does no harm to the supply that already exists and improves the competitive advantage. Car plants are watching the process carefully because auto industry trade groups don’t want to roll back anything.”
Currently, NAFTA has a 62.5% local content requirement that trade groups testified was working fine. Blais said most groups following the negotiations are comfortable that NAFTA can be improved without doing harm to the industry.
“What is worrisome is talk of a border adjustment tax that was very much talked about a few months ago with tax reform,” Blais said. “We’re hearing much less of that now. It could hurt manufacturing in South Carolina because of the added cost.”
Canada is comfortable in the multi-lateral arena of trade siting its recent ratification of trade agreement with the European Union, Blais said. She added the negotiations are expected to be an accelerated process due to the window of opportunity and said leaders have about a year to get it over the finish line.
“How well the negotiations go will impact the future, so right now the focus is on NAFTA,” Blais said.
While in Columbia, Blais met with women business leaders to promote the Women in Business North America Summit that will be held in Atlanta Oct. 3-4.
“The Canadian government sees the engagement of women in business and entrepreneurship as a huge area of potential growth in the economy,” Blais said. “At this summit we want to let women know what they can do to break down barriers, and make it more enticing for women to launch companies while being able to scale and grow them.”
Blais said the growth of a business often requires export and she wants to give women the tools to access markets outside of the United States including Canada.
“Canada is a friendly place to do business, and often we find women don’t have the network, not fully informed on border issues that might arise or issues about licensing in Canada. We want to help South Carolina women become developed.”