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A Ford car physically crosses the border between Canada and the U.S. seven times before being sold in the U.S., according to Canadian Consul General Phyllis Yaffe, who spoke about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the value of the relationship between Canada and the United States at Princeton on Tuesday afternoon.

The event was organized by the Canadian Studies Program and the Ferris Seminars in Journalism. Deborah Amos, award-winning NPR reporter and visiting professor of journalism at the University, moderated the discussion, asking probing questions about the recent conversation on trade policy under the Trump administration.

After contentious talks on the NAFTA trade agreement between Canada, Mexico and the U.S. this January, there were questions of whether the United States might withdraw from the agreement. Despite her overall optimism towards the U.S. Canada trade relationship, Yaffe did call the recent U.S. proposals “unusual.” 

“We have not encountered these kinds of proposals in any other trade agreement that we’ve negotiated,” Yaffe said.

These doubts aside, Yaffe emphasized the importance of the U.S. Canada relationship, describing it as one of a kind.

“We aren’t just trading partners,” said Yaffe. “We share values; we share borders; we share oceans; we share air; we share hockey teams; we share everything.”

Simon Morrison, Director of the Canadian Studies Program and Professor of Music and Slavic Studies at Princeton, remembers when the NAFTA agreement was first introduced in the Canada. 

“I remember when I was growing up and there was a lot of anxiety about the fact that the United States wanted to exploit us,” he said. Morrison noted that the very same arguments that take place in the United States occurred in Canada as well when the agreement was introduced.

But the world of trade has changed since NAFTA was first introduced in January of 1994. Yaffe quoted the Canadian ambassador to the U.S. saying, “Amazon was just a river when the deal was made, the cloud was in the sky.”

Since the signing of the agreement, officials have amended NAFTA eleven times. Yaffe emphasized the importance of negotiating the modernization if the agreement, rather than dispelling it altogether. 

One section of NAFTA itemizes parts of cars, specifying where each part is typically produced and traded. According to Yaffe, this itemization currently includes cassette recording devices, but not computers. 

“I don’t think people buy cars with cassette players anymore,” Yaffe said. “That’s in there because that was twenty-five years ago. Self driving cars or technology for computers in cars are not in there.”

According to Yaffe, the three countries are seeking to modernize the agreement. So far, the countries have re-evaluated six of the thirty chapters in the agreement and they hope to review all of them before the end of the year.

Yaffe mentioned that in recent NAFTA negotiations, Canada introduced a progressive agenda for the agreement with four major elements. Those areas are labor standards, environmental standards, gender equality and the rights of indigenous people.

Jason Qu ’21, who attended the talk, is from Canada and wants to pursue a career in public service there after graduation. 

“Especially given the current administration’s stance on trade and international relations,” said Qu, “I think it was quite refreshing.” 

Describing Yaffe, Morrison said, “For any student on this campus who is interested in diplomacy or doing work for an embassy, these are the kinds of people that you would want to meet and talk about.” 

Yaffe recently took a trip to the Eastern Air Defence Command in Rome, New York, where she witnessed collaboration between the U.S. and Canada.

When describing the plant, she said, “There are American service people and Canadian service people sitting beside each other doing exactly the same job, protecting all of us. That’s not going to change.” 

“We may have issues about NAFTA, but my favorite expression is ‘this too shall pass,‘“ she noted.

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