Tag Archives: NAFTA

How Trump could become a national-level version of Jesse Ventura

Before Trump waged his insurgent candidacy, professional wrestler Jesse Ventura won election as governor of Minnesota. (Reuters)

How about this for a black swan?

Americans haven’t elected a take-no-prisoners executive bound to drag the country into a hard-right populist dystopia.

Instead, they’ve elected a third-party-style insurgent (albeit from within the Republican Party) who will struggle to make allies in either congressional party and fizzle out after four years of smoke, but not a lot of noise — or economic or policy accomplishments.

It already happened — in Minnesota. In 1998, voters weary of grey establishmentarians, elected instead the flamboyant Jesse Ventura, a former professional wrestler. Christening himself as Jesse ‘the Mind’ Ventura, he narrowly clipped Republican Norm Coleman (then St. Paul mayor) and Democrat Skip Humphrey (the son of the former vice president). But Ventura, in his one lonely term as governor, transformed a $4 billion budget surplus into a $4.5 billion deficit and otherwise spent most of his time fighting with the media and with members of the state legislature.

Ventura, who ran and governed on the quirky Reform Party ticket founded in 1996 by Ross Perot, lent his support in 2000 to Trump’s nascent bid for the Reform Party’s presidential nomination. Trump eventually lost to the anti-trade, anti-immigrant conservative commentator Pat Buchanan.

Far from a lapse to 1930s-style authoritarianism, perhaps the Trump administration will be far more like a national version of the Ventura experiment. Trump has already squandered nearly a quarter of his first 100 days on distractions and controversy. 

Continue reading How Trump could become a national-level version of Jesse Ventura

O’Leary, businessman and ‘Shark Tank’ star, wants to be Canada’s Trump

A more polite Donald Trump? Canada’s Kevin O’Leary hopes to make the same leap from business to reality TV to politics. (Facebook)

If Kevin O’Leary has his way, Donald Trump won’t be the only public official who won power as a businessman-turned-reality TV star. 

From the set of ABC’s Shark Tank — produced by Mark Burnett, who also brought Trump to the small screen with The Apprentice — O’Leary hopes to wage a campaign to bring his brusque ‘shark tank’ mindset to Canadian politics, first to the Conservative Party, then by bringing the fight to current prime minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government.

Unlike Trump, however, O’Leary will at least be able to say that he’s won an Emmy.

After months of consideration, O’Leary three weeks ago entered the crowded race to lead the Tories. So far, he’s a shark who is making a splash.

O’Leary, the son of an Irish father and small businessman, got his big break in business as the founder of Softkey, a Canadian software producer, riding the wave of growth in the personal computer industry that began in the late 1980s and exploded in the 1990s. O’Leary’s financial empire, over the years, grew to include everything from investment management to physical storage services. But his real claim to fame lies as one of the stars of Dragon’s Den, a reality TV show that launched on CBC in 2006. On the show, O’Leary portrayed a no-nonsense venture capitalist judging the projects of various contestants. (Sound familiar?)

Wildly popular in Canada and, indeed, one of the most popular television programs in Canadian history, Burnett picked up the concept for American television in 2009 and turned the series into Shark Tank, where O’Leary continued to hold a leading role and quickly assumed the nickname ‘Mr. Wonderful.’

Conservative Party members increasingly believe that Mr. Wonderful may also be Mr. Right, insofar as they think O’Leary can lead them out of the Trudeau-era wilderness and back into power. They will vote in May to crown the party’s first permanent leader since prime minister Stephen Harper’s defeat in the October 2015 general election. Continue reading O’Leary, businessman and ‘Shark Tank’ star, wants to be Canada’s Trump

Mexico starts to fight back in earnest against Trump’s US border wall and protectionism threat

Former president Vicente Fox takes a bat to a Trump-shaped piñata in September.

Vicente Fox wants you to know that Mexico is not paying for ‘that fucking wall.’

Though US president Donald Trump officially took office just six days ago, his willingness to push his key campaign proposal of building a border wall along the southern border of the United States has already touched off a diplomatic crisis with Mexican officials. After Trump enacted an executive order (of somewhat dubious legality) instructing the federal government to start construction on the wall, Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto cancelled a planned trip to meet Trump in Washington today.

Though Peña Nieto welcomed Trump on a surprise campaign visit to Mexico City last summer, backing down from confronting someone who was then just the Republican Party presidential nominee, Wednesday’s executive order and the White House’s insistence that Mexico will pay for the wall led Peña Nieto to push back in a video message late Wednesday night. Trump responded with his own Twitter rant on Thursday, essentially daring Peña Nieto to cancel the meeting, during which the two presidents planned to discuss cooperation on security and renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

No one, however, has been more outspoken against Trump than Fox, who served as president between 2000 and 2006 and who has railed against Trump’s proposed border wall, routinely in profane terms. In September, Fox gleefully took a bat to a Trump-shaped piñata and, upon completion, noted that Trump was just was empty-brained as the empty piñata.

Fox is a former president who knows a little something about political revolutions.

In 2000, he became the first president in seven decades from outside the long-governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, Institutional Revolutionary Party). His election, to this day, represents a watershed moment in Mexico’s multiparty democracy. Fox (and his successor) are members of the conservative Partido Acción Nacional (PAN, National Action Party) that held the Mexican presidency for 12 years — until the telegenic Peña Nieto’s election in 2012, when the PRI returned to Los Pinos. Fox, like George W. Bush in the 1990s, was a governor, and before the Sept. 2001 terrorist attacks refocused the Bush administration’s efforts, the two presidents had hoped to work together on immigration reform and deeper harmonization between the two countries, a priority that fell to the back burner with two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Continue reading Mexico starts to fight back in earnest against Trump’s US border wall and protectionism threat

Pulling out of TPP: the first major foreign policy error of the Trump administration

The Trump administration today pulled out of the 12-nation TPP talks. (123rf / art1980)

Keeping a promise from his 2016 campaign, US president Donald Trump formally pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership today, a 12-nation trade and investment agreement in the works for nearly a decade.

Though the move will win plaudits from both the populist right and the anti-trade left (including Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, the former Democratic presidential candidate) Trump’s move is the first major unforced foreign policy error of the Trump administration. TPP opposition brings together an ascendant protectionist coalition that includes many of Trump’s populist supporters, but also many rust-belt and leftist Democrats and many organized labor officials.

In junking the US role in the TPP, a death knell for the trade accord, Trump has now cleared the way for the People’s Republic of China to set the baseline for trade rules across the Asia-Pacific region, negating hopes from the previous Obama administration to ‘pivot’ the country’s strategic and economic orientation toward the fast-growing region and backtracking on a decades-long bipartisan consensus that the United States takes an open and, indeed, leading approach to the ideal of free trade.

* * * * *

RELATED: One reason for Americans to support TPP?
Absolving US sins in Vietnam

* * * * *

Though the general terms of global trade will continue to be governed by the World Trade Organization, regional trade deals allow for countries to deepen trade ties in ways that go beyond the standard WTO rules and to develop strategic alliances.

Trump railed against the TPP from the earliest months of his presidential campaign, arguing that it gave China an unfair advantage:

The TPP is horrible deal. It’s a deal that was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone.

But China was never a signatory to the TPP and, indeed, was never party to the 12-country talks that also included stalwart US allies like Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Japan. The US national interest in negotiating and signing an agreement like the TPP would have been to create a trade paradigm in the region that seeks to help US interests in contrast to Chinese interests and, of course, to draw both traditional allies and new allies closer to the United States economically and strategically.

If anything, the TPP provided a framework to protect the United States from Chinese competition. To the extent that American manufacturing jobs have suffered as a result of international trade, and from trade with China, in particular, it has come from the decision in 2000 by a Republican Congress and Democratic president Bill Clinton to grant permanent normal trade relations to China (which had previously been subject to an annual congressional vote) and in 2001 to admit China to the WTO, lessening the ability of the United States to deploy protective tariffs against China.

Continue reading Pulling out of TPP: the first major foreign policy error of the Trump administration

Anti-Russia, pro-trade former journalist Freeland is Canada’s new foreign minister

Chrystia Freeland transitioned only four years ago from journalism to politics, but she’s now Canada’s top diplomat. (Facebook)

If there’s a polite Canadian way to let Donald Trump just what Canada’s government thinks of the incoming US president with just over a week before his inauguration, it must certainly be this:

Promoting to the rank of foreign minister — Canada’s chief diplomat and the key official tasked with US relations — a former journalist who has championed free trade, who last year finalized a landmark free trade agreement between Canada and the European Union and whose writings on Ukraine and Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea so offended Russian officials that they placed her on a sanctions list and banned her from setting foot on Russian soil.

Meet Chrystia Freeland.

Like prime minister Justin Trudeau, Freeland is technically very new to elective politics, entering the House of Commons after winning a by-election in Toronto only in 2013. But also like Trudeau, she’s spent her entire adult life steeped in Canadian and global politics.

As recently as last week, Freeland held up Canada as country open to both immigration and trade and a bulwark against rising populism and protectionism in the United States and Europe. As Trump prepares to take power to the south, and as a Conservative MP, Kellie Leitch, tries to win her own party’s leadership with an anti-immigrant and anti-elite message, voters haven’t lost faith in Trudeau’s approach. His post-election honeymoon is continuing into its 15th month, as the Liberal Party continues to enjoy a wide double-digit polling lead.
Continue reading Anti-Russia, pro-trade former journalist Freeland is Canada’s new foreign minister

Peña Nieto needs a Trump-sized confrontation to help his ailing presidency

Nearly two-thirds into his presidency, Enrique Peña Nieto is far more unpopular than either of his two predecessors. (Facebook)
Nearly two-thirds into his presidency, Enrique Peña Nieto is far more unpopular than either of his two predecessors. (Facebook)

Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, was elected in July 2012 to great fanfare, so it was almost certain that his administration would fall well short of expectations.Mexico Flag Icon

In the leadup to that 2012 presidential election, Peña Nieto spent so many years as such a heavy frontrunner he was practically Mexico’s president-in-waiting. When he ultimately won the presidency by a margin of around 6.5%, it was less than polls predicted, but still the largest margin of victory in a presidential election since 1994. With movie star looks and a bona-fide star for a wife in Angélica Rivera, a model and telenovela actress, his victory was a triumph not only for himself, but for his party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, Institutional Revolutionary Party), which lost the presidency in 2000 after seven decades of consecutive rule in Mexico and that spent a difficult decade shut out of executive power at the national level. In Peña Nieto, the telegenic former governor of the state of Mexico, with over 15 million people, by far the largest in the country and the surrounding state of Mexico’s central federal district.

* * * * *

RELATED: For El Paso-Juárez,
Trump’s vision of Mexico based on misconception

* * * * *

When he rose to the presidency, Peña Nieto was widely expected to do just two things as the face of what Mexican voters believed to be a reformed and a modernizing PRI.

First, Peña Nieto would enact a range of reforms liberalizing everything from Mexico’s energy sector to its tax collections scheme. Second, Peña Nieto would bring peace to a country roiled by drug violence, lethal competition among drug cartel and what seemed like an increasingly self-defeating militarized response to drug violence by Peña Nieto’s predecessor, Felipe Calderón, of the conservative Partido Acción Nacional (PAN, National Action Party).

On both fronts, Peña Nieto fell short of expectations.

While Mexico might today be more becalmed than in 2012, violence and government incompetence have dominated headlines. Peña Nieto’s presidency will forever be marred by the abduction and assassination of 43 students in Iguala by police officers in Guerrero state in September 2014. The glory of his government’s capture in 2014 of Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, the leader of the infamous Sinaloa cartel, was soon eclipsed by his escape from a maximum-security prison in 2015, and Guzmán, recaptured seven months later, now faces extradition to the United States.

Peña Nieto’s presidency has been a mix of the good (significant political and economic reforms), the bad (corruption, impunity at the highest level of the PRI and his own administration and ineptitude in the face of cartel strength) and the ugly (the Iguala massacre).

By most measures, though, his performance has been far worse than many observers expected, with less impressive reforms than promised and a legacy of sporadic drug violence, police brutalization, personal conflict-of-interest scandals and continuing widespread corruption at all levels of government. That’s all on top of a Mexican economy struggling to deal with far lower global prices for oil and other commodities. It’s so bad that his approval rating sank earlier this month to just 23%, lower than any Mexican president since Ernesto Zedillo faced an acute peso crisis in the mid-1990s.

In the July 2015 midterm elections, the PRI lost nine seats in the Cámara de Diputados (Chamber of Deputies), the lower house of the Mexican congress, and in the June 2016 gubernatorial elections, the PRI lost power in states it’s held since 1929 — including Veracruz, Tamaulipas Durango and Quintana Roo.

Just this week, as he prepares to deliver his state of the union address on Thursday, Peña Nieto has faced down embarrassing revelations that he plagiarized much of the thesis that he submitted for his law degree. Earlier this month, his wife faced fresh accusations of a new conflicts-of-interest scandal involving the use of a luxury apartment from a Mexican businessman in Miami.

So as the Mexican president prepares to welcome Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for an unexpected private meeting on Wednesday, it’s no understatement that Mexico’s beleaguered president could use a diversion. With his approval ratings so low, though, Trump presents an easy target. Continue reading Peña Nieto needs a Trump-sized confrontation to help his ailing presidency

Could the United States and Canada effect a national merger?

DSC09740

I spent an impromptu weekend in Ottawa and Montréal, which marked my first visit to Canada’s capital city — and its fourth-most populous (after Toronto, Montréal and Calgary).USflagCanada Flag Icon

Though Ottawa is a bilingual city that sits on the Ontario-Québec borders, there’s no doubting that this was a city founded by English Canadians (and, in fact, New Englanders founded the first colonial-era settlement) — which may explain why it’s impossible to find a decent meal other than poutine on a Sunday night after 10 p.m.).  But the trip gave me good reason to read the new book from National Post columnist Diane Francis, Merger of the Century: Why Canada and America Should Become One Country. 

OK, so let that sink in for a moment.  Merging the United States and Canada into one mega-country.  Impossible, right?  A national political space with room for both Jacques Parizeau and Haley Barbour? Come on.

But it’s not an unhinged read — it’s a page-turner, and Francis has a command of the data that motivates her argument.  It also meets the ‘learn something on every page’ test.  Did you know that Canada’s First Nations residents also have US citizenship?  Or that the US defense department, if it were a nation, would have an economy the size of Turkey’s?

The political hurdles are immense 

Let’s start with the obvious — in a world where the US Congress can’t even agree for three weeks on whether to fund the government, the appetite for a merger with Canada is probably less than zero, and Francis certainly knows this.  The politics of a US-Canada merger are impossibly difficult, and the weakest part of the book is that Francis glides over the political hurdles — the Québec question and the issue of Southern intransigence in the United States are dealt with in just over three pages.  I like to think that’s because Francis knows the political obstacles are insurmountable and prefers to spend more time making her very able case for the economic synergies that a merger would bring.

harperobama

It’s tempting to believe that Canada’s relatively more statist and socially and economically liberal population would give the US Democratic Party an almost immediate lock on elections for the foreseeable future (and Francis hints as much), but that’s not necessarily the case.  It’s Canada that has a three-term Conservative prime minister in Stephen Harper and the United States that has a two-term Democratic president in Barack Obama (pictured above with Harper).  As John Ibbiston and Darrell Bricker argue in their own big-think volume from last year, The Big Shift: The Seismic Change In Canadian Politics, Business, And Culture And What It Means For Our Future, there’s a growing majoritarian coalition of immigrants, Westerners and Ontario suburbanites that could make Harper’s Tories the natural party of government in Canada in the 21st century — just as much as the Liberal Party of Wilfrid Laurier, William Lyon Mackenzie King, Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien dominated the 20th.

It’s hard to imagine that Québec premier Pauline Marois and Texas governor Rick Perry would have much in common.  Still, there are common trends in the politics of the left and right on both sides of the border, and Toronto mayor Rob Ford proves that Canada has as many colorful characters in politics as the United States.

On the right, the rise of the ‘tea party’ movement on the US political right matches the rise of a new fiscal and social conservatism captured by the rise of Alberta’s new Wildrose Party (as an alternative to the long-dominant Progressive Conservative Party).  Harper’s own rise, and the merger of the western-based Canadian Alliance with the dwindling eastern-based Progressive Conservatives, is the story of the rise of a more anti-government, pro-Christian, social and economic conservatism in Canada.  That mirrors the rightward shift of US conservatism under the influence of Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and others.

On the left, the late Jack Layton led the New Democratic Party to a historic breakthrough in the 2011 federal election in a way that mirrors the new progressive coalition of minorities, moderates and young voters that powered Obama in 2008 — first to win the Democratic Party nomination over Hillary Clinton, then to win the presidency.  The difference between the pragmatic, business-friendly Liberals and the social democratic NDP in Canada is the difference between, say, US senator Chuck Schumer of New York and US senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

Nonetheless, with all due respect to Paul Cellucci, the former US ambassador to Canada, the difference between Québec and Alberta is not the same as the difference between Massachusetts and Mississippi (despite the heritage of French Americans from Maine to Louisiana).  The cultural gulf between the United States and Canada is the gulf between revolution and evolution, fixed in place by 200 years of path dependence.

If I were Canadian, I would worry that the best aspects of Canadian culture and politics would be totally subsumed by US culture and politics — it was Trudeau, after all, who said that having the United States for a neighbor was like being a mouse sleeping next to an elephant.  For all the valid criticisms of the US military-industrial complex, it’s hard to believe that the Canadian influence would slow the militarism of US policy (though, frankly, deploying US troops to patrol the Arctic north or to fortify and develop new northern settlements seems a more productive endeavor than invading Iraq).  

As the United States has increasingly retreated behind a wall of homeland security in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Canada has increasingly opened its borders to immigrants.  One out of every two residents of Toronto, Canada’s largest city, is foreign-born, and nearly seven million of Canada’s 35 million people are foreign-born.  In the 21st century, Canada is becoming the melting-pot society that the United States once was in the 20th century.  That would be endangered if Canada became merely the northern-most region within a greater North American superstate.

Francis also betrays a protectionist edge that view Chinese, Russian and Arab malevolence at every turn.  If I were Canadian, I’d be happy to know that China, Russia and other countries are willing to compete with US and Canadian investors to most efficiently develop the resources of Canada’s far north.  It seems to me that the kind of knee-jerk nationalism that led to the 2006 Dubai Ports World kerfuffle in the United States is something that’s more dangerous to democratic and economic institutions in North America than an investment here or there by China.

But when you get to the heart of Francis’s argument about the reasons for and benefits from a US-Canadian merger, it’s as thoughtful, radical and brilliant as you’ll find in any of the top books published last year.

Even the most outlandish ideas should win points for creative thinking.  A payout of $492,529 to each Canadian citizen at a total cost of around $17 trillion to the US treasury?  A bifurcated health care system that would include greater rights and freedoms for Canadians?  The concept that the US deep south, which chose segregation over industrialization and economic modernization for nearly a century, would sign up to a merger because it might mean more Canadians would migrate to the Sun Belt?  That Quebeckers would willingly give up what amounts to a veto on national policymaking for  irrelevance in a super-country whose First Amendment freedoms would make most of the province’s language regulations unconstitutional on Day One?  That the staid Bay Street approach to banking regulation would easily graft itself onto the creatively destructive mentality of Wall Street? None of these are politically feasible.

How to capture the benefits of greater cooperation

The good news is that the United States and Canada don’t actually have to become one nation-state in order to effect a lot of the benefits that Francis outlines, which is where her book really shines.  That’s especially true in a globalized world where national borders are conceivably less important than at any time in the post-Westphalia era.  A handful of efforts could bring much of Francis’s dream to reality without a supranational acquis communautaire or admitting Canada’s provinces and territories as the next 13 American states:

Continue reading Could the United States and Canada effect a national merger?

Who is Roberto Azevêdo? (And does he matter?)

The only dispute between México and Brazil since the emergence of the World Trade Organization is a minor matter — Brazil opened a case in 2000 when it accused México of enacting anti-dumping measures on electronic transformers that were tougher than allowed under the WTO agreement.  Brazil, as it turned out, sought consultations with México, and the case never proceeded to a full WTO panel.Mexico Flag IconWTO flagbrazil

But this week’s seen the conclusion of a contest between the two Latin American countries with much more wide-ranging consequences than policy on electronic transformers — the final round to select a new director-general, and it’s a contest that Roberto Azevêdo, a Brazilian diplomat and trade representative, has won the final nomination for the job, and will likely be officially confirmed as the next director-general on May 14.

Azevêdo defeated former Mexican trade minister Herminio Blanco, in a contest between two men that represent the two largest economies in Latin America.  As Brazil’s man in Geneva for the past five years, Azevêdo won the post in large part due to his status as a knowledgeable WTO insider.  Blanco, who helped draft the landmark North American Free Trade Agreement in the 1990s among the United States, Canada and México, had more high-level experience in government (Azevêdo has never been a cabinet-level minister in Brazil’s government), but has spent his time out of government in the private sector, not in Geneva.

To a degree, the showdown marks the growing, if friendly, rivalry between México and Brazil — the Mexican economy, with a GDP of $1.76 trillion, and an estimated 2012 growth rate of 3.8%, is expected to overtake Brazil’s economy in the next decade.  With a GDP of $2.36 trillion, Brazil remains the largest economy in Latin America, and it’s forecast to improve on a paltry 2012 GDP growth rate of 1.7%.

Azevêdo’s win demonstrates that Brazil, one of the four initially identified ‘BRIC’ emerging economies, remains a widely respected player in global economic policymaking, despite its economy’s recent stumbles and a somewhat ambivalent attitude toward global trade from its center-left presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, though Brazil was a founding member of the South American free trade bloc, Mercosur (Mercado Común del Sur) in 1991.  Blanco’s loss is a rare diplomatic setback to Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto, who took office less than six months ago and has already enacted a whirlwind of domestic reforms that have made his country once again a darling of international investors.

Azevêdo will succeed Pascal Lamy, the Frenchman who’s been the WTO’s director-general since 2005, and he’ll take over the organization at a time when its role in global trade seems to be on the decline.  The Doha round of negotiations, which began way back in November 2001, now seem nearly hopeless, with the WTO members split between the developed world and the developing world.

Indeed, the developed/developing struggle came to define the final round of the race to become the next director-general, with the United States, the European Union, Japan and South Korea allegedly backing México’s Blanco, and China and the rest of the developing world backing Brazil’s Azevêdo.  Despite the divide, U.S. and E.U. officials were never intensely opposed to Azevêdo, who will become the first Latin American director-general of the WTO (or its predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) and the first director-general from the ‘global south’ since Thailand’s Supachai Panitchpakdi held the job from 2002 to 2005.

But the last major Doha negotiations broke down in July 2008, and they haven’t resumed in any significant way since the global financial crisis that exploded later that year.  While the WTO has seen its membership grow by 17 since the Doha round began (including China in 2001, Saudi Arabia in 2005, Vietnam in 2007 and Russia in 2012), many countries have moved toward bilateral and regional trade accords.  Some WTO proponents fear that such smaller trade agreements undermine the role of the global trade regime, though proponents argue that regional agreements work toward the same underlying goals of greater free trade among the world’s nations.

In particular, the United States is kicking off talks for two of the most ambitious regional trade agreements in U.S. trade history that would far outweigh the impact NAFTA made in the 1990s — the Trans-Pacific Partnership among various Asian, North American and South American nations and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the European Union and the United States. Continue reading Who is Roberto Azevêdo? (And does he matter?)