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NAFTA 'no accident'

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney offered a spirited defence of the North American Free Trade Agreement in Washington on Tuesday, while warning about the potential impacts of a U.S. withdrawal from the deal.

The comments came as Mulroney appeared before the U.S. Senate committee on foreign relations, only days after the latest round of NAFTA discussions ended in Montreal with guarded optimism about the future.

Mulroney was warmly greeted by the majority of U.S. senators on the committee, who were largely united in their belief that while NAFTA needs to be modernized, the deal itself had been a boon to their country and North America.

It was also clear that many of the committee members worried about U.S. President Donald Trump's constant threats to pull out of the trade deal, which he has called a terrible agreement for the U.S.

Mulroney, who didn't mention Trump by name through his appearance, launched his testimony by recalling a conversation with Ronald Reagan in 1985, which served as the genesis of what would eventually become NAFTA.

He went on to assert in no uncertain terms that free trade had benefited the United States and Canada from an economic perspective and by cementing the most peaceful and prosperous bilateral relationship in history.

"NAFTA did not happen by accident," Mulroney said. "In large measure it was the result of the leadership and vision of three great American presidents: Ronald Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton."

Mulroney referenced the three former U.S. presidents several times during his testimony.

Much of Trump's criticism about the trade deal has centred on concerns about a U.S. trade deficit with Canada and Mexico, meaning the Americans import more than they export.

Mulroney contradicted such assessments, saying the U.S. actually enjoyed a US$7.7-billion surplus in goods and services with Canada last year, while noting substantial Canadian and Mexican investments in the U.S. since the deal.

"How do you explain today a 4.1 per cent unemployment rate in the United States, and a similar rate in Canada and growing prosperity in Mexico?" Mulroney said.

"What happened, of course, is that we got together and we built a $21-trillion market with millions and millions of new jobs in North America, in all places."



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