WHITEFISH, Mont., June 26, 2017 – The Western Governors’ Association opened its summer meeting on Monday by hosting two high-ranking Canadians who called for the U.S. to be careful as it moves to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Canada’s ambassador to Washington, David MacNaughton, and Brad Wall, the premier of Saskatchewan, pointed out that Canada and the U.S. have both benefited greatly from NAFTA over its 23-year history.
Still, Wall said he fears that leaders on both sides of the border may have become “complacent” about the treaty, which has fostered a $1 trillion a year trade relationship between the U.S. and Canada.
“That’s what’s at stake here if we’re not careful, if we’re not vigilant,” he said. “We agree with the president that it’s time to tweak NAFTA… We don’t have a problem with that, and I know our prime minister has said as much.” But he said, “it’s imperative” that negotiators stick with “tweaking” and not to listen to “overheated rhetoric.”
MacNaughton said he’s seen some good signs recently, citing comments by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and others that the first thing negotiators should remember is “do no harm.” And he called on leaders in the private sector to keep up the pressure on negotiators to go lightly with NAFTA.
“The more you can encourage private sector companies to go forward to their representatives and remind them how important trade is and that these things need to be preserved, the better off we’re going to be.”
The panel discussion, “Connecting Canada with the West,” was the opening session of the three-day conference which has attracted about 500 stakeholders to a theater in the small Montana town of Whitefish near the entrance to Glacier National Park. About a dozen governors and other officials are on hand to discuss common issues facing the American West, including public lands management, firefighting, infrastructure and invasive and endangered species.
The big name on the meeting’s agenda is Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is expected to be asked about President Trump’s proposed budget, which involves big reductions in spending for his department and the National Parks. The plan would cut almost $1 million, or about 7 percent, from the operational budget for Glacier, which draws thousands of tourists daily to the region and is a major driver of the area’s economy.
Environmental groups have said they plan to protest at the conference on Tuesday, when the former Montana congressman is scheduled to speak. They have also been running TV ads in the region, suggesting that Zinke, who represented Whitefish as a state lawmaker from 2009 to 2011, is more responsive to developers that the people of the West.
The meeting’s agenda also includes talks by actor Jeff Bridges, a part-time Montana resident and an advocate for ending child hunger, and renowned mountaineer Conrad Anker.
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