It would be a blunder for the next White House to reopen the North American free-trade agreement, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned in a blunt response to vows by Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton to rewrite or scrap the deal.
Both Democratic presidential rivals pledged this week to cancel NAFTA if they cannot secure significant changes but Harper cautioned that future presidents would be opening a can of worms if they moved to renegotiate the deal because Canada would want changes, too.
"If any American government ever chose to make the mistake of opening [NAFTA], we would have some things we would want to talk about as well," Harper said.
While Harper didn't elaborate, International Trade Minister David Emerson warned a day earlier that privileged U.S. access to Canada's energy riches could be disrupted if NAFTA is reopened or scrapped.
"There's no doubt if NAFTA were to be reopened we would want to have our list of priorities," he said.
"Knowledgeable observers would have to take note of the fact that we are the largest supplier of energy to the United States, and NAFTA has been kind of a foundation of integrating the North American energy market," Emerson added.
Emerson called the Democratic candidates' NAFTA vow political posturing aimed at party voters, but he said he's nevertheless worried about a rising tide of protectionism in the United States.
"It's been getting more strident; it's permeating congress ... and it's not just the heat of the presidential campaign that is causing concern, it's the whole congressional system."
During the final Democratic candidates' debate before next week's Texas and Ohio primaries, Mrs/ Clinton said Tuesday she would demand new environmental and labor provisions in NAFTA as well as a new dispute-resolution mechanism.
And she'd eliminate the right of foreign firms to sue Washington for enacting measures to protect its workers. Obama agreed.
But Emerson said reopening the deal would open a can of worms, with new demands for changes from all countries. He said one beef Canada would have is the deal's dispute-resolution mechanism, which failed to solve the long-running softwood trade war between Ottawa and Washington.
"If you reopen [NAFTA] for one or two issues, you cannot avoid reopening it across a range of issues," he said.
He scoffed at the Democrats' suggestions that they want to toughen labor and environmental provisions, saying: "I don't think the United States has got anything to teach Canada about labor and the environment."
Separately, the Canadian embassy in Washington and Obama's election team denied a CTV report that a senior Obama adviser called Canadian Ambassador Michael Wilson within the past month to warn him that Obama would criticize NAFTA, and to assure him it was "just campaign rhetoric."
However, CTV News stood by its story, saying that high-level sources in the Harper government confirmed its version of events.
U.S. unions have blamed the deal for the disappearance of thousands of jobs, but studies have repeatedly shown that trade has thrived and all three NAFTA signatories have benefited since the deal took effect in 1994.
The barrage of NAFTA attacks launched by Obama and Hillary show their utter lack of knowledge of and appreciation for the delicate relationship between the U.S. and Canada.