Skip to Content

Why Business Leaders Are Relieved About the New North American Trade Deal

The sense of relief at Fortune‘s Global Forum in Toronto was palpable that the United States, Mexico, and Canada had recently struck a new continental trade deal.

Earlier this month, the three countries reached the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which is set to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), ending several months of tensions between the countries. At one point, that included insults hurled at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by U.S. President Donald Trump and one of his advisors.

“It was a very difficult negotiation,” said Annette Verschuren, the CEO of NRStor and an executive who advised Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland during the talks between the three countries, at the conference on Monday. “At the end, we came up with a deal that is not a bad deal for Canada.”

Canada and the U.S. trade over $1 billion a day in goods, and the jury is out on who might be winners and losers under the new deal. But the relationship, along with trade with Mexico, is too important to all three countries to have let uncertainty drag on, one panelist said.

“Everyone’s a winner in that a deal got done,” said Michael Forman, president of strategic growth at Mastercard and a former U.S. Trade Representative. “It’s better than the alternative of not having a deal at all.”

And because NAFTA, enacted in 1993, goes back to before e-commerce emerged, it needed to be updated, said Nando Cesarone, president of international operations at UPS. “Some of those things have been address,” he said.

At many other panels at the Global Forum, delegates from the business world generally hailed the importance of trade, saying it was crucial to world peace. As for the harsh words from the U.S. administration, Trudeau, who kicked off the conference with a keynote and interview onstage, downplayed their importance.

“What people will remember is where we ended up,” Trudeau told the Global Forum audience.