While the lead negotiators for Canada and the U.S. were in intense meetings in Washington trying to find a breakthrough in the vexing NAFTA auto industry regulations, Mexico’s ambassador to Canada, Dionisio Pérez Jácome, was holding a series of meetings in Winnipeg spreading the word that Mexico is committed to free trade now and in the future.
In a speech to the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce on Tuesday morning, Jácome did his best to make the point that Mexico believes that a renegotiated NAFTA has to be one that should be truly trilateral that benefits each of the countries.
“We will continue to engage in negotiations in a constructive manner always keeping in mind that it should benefit all three countries,” Jácome said.
In addition to the auto sector, top of the agenda for Canada’s foreign affairs minister, Chrystia Freeland, on Tuesday was negotiating a further reprieve from potentially crippling U.S. tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum that expires on Friday, an issue she says is separate from the NAFTA talks.
That’s just one more deadline for trade negotiators to deal with on top of the looming national election in Mexico on July 1 and mid-term elections in the U.S. in November adding to the sense that negotiators are on the clock to complete the new NAFTA deal fast.
But Jácome stressed that it was more important for Mexico to achieve a good deal rather than a quick one.
Last week Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said he believes there is a 40 per cent chance of the deal getting done before his country’s election.
“We are in no position to exchange quality for speed,” Jácome said.
There is no doubt that the NAFTA era has had a significant impact on Mexican-Canadian trade. Jácome pointed out that since the deal was signed in 1994 trade between the two North American countries has increased nine-fold.
In his first visit to Winnipeg — which Jácome said was at least partly to bestow the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest Mexican order awarded to foreigners, to Jim Downey, the long-time honorary consul to Mexico — he met with the premier, the mayor and several business groups.
“They were very productive meetings,” he said. “The business community in Mexico and Canada have been getting to know each other better. They are doing more trade and there are good opportunities to compliment each other. I believe we are on track to continue increasing trade.”
Imports from Mexico to Manitoba are almost triple the size of exports from here to there, but the pork sector has perhaps made the strongest inroads. This province is a major producer of Canadian pork and Mexico is an enthusiastic importer. It’s now Canada’s fourth largest export destination for pork and last year Manitoba represented about 43 per cent of the total, worth about $83 million.
Both Maple Leaf Foods and HyLife Foods, the province’s two largest pork processors, export to Mexico. HyLife has a plant with 200 workers north of Mexico City where it makes sausage for the Mexican market using Manitoba-produced pork products.
“The big thing about NAFTA, as the ambassador spoke about, is that it opened up the Mexican market for Canadian produced pork so that now Mexico is a major market for Canadian pork,” said Andrew Dickson, general manager of Manitoba Pork. “They are currently getting most of their pork from the U.S. But they wanted to diversify the sources of supply.”
Jácome spoke about how free trade — and not just with Canada and the U.S. but with more than 48 other countries as well — has transformed the Mexican economy and allowed it to diversify.
Mariette Mulaire, the CEO of World Trade Centre Winnipeg, said the desire to expand its trading perspective is one of the many examples of how the two countries share similar goals.
“There is absolutely an opportunity for Canada and Mexico to work together to develop even stronger links,” she said. “With the uncertainties around NAFTA (created by U.S. President Donald Trump’s repeated references to it being “the worst deal”)… we share the same kind of concerns.”