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Canadian Diplomat Visits Syracuse to Discuss Trade and Tariffs With Local Businesses

Scott Willis

Trade and tariffs were on the mind of a Canadian diplomat who paid a visit to Syracuse Wednesday. Consul General of Canada in New York Phyllis Yaffe was in town to talk to business leaders and owners about the impact of fast-changing trade policy. She says the primary focus is continuing to negotiate updates to NAFTA, which has regulated trade between the US, Canada, and Mexico for 24 years. Yaffe says there have been some that she terms “unusual” requests from the US, including a sunset clause.

"The US has asked to have the agreement end every five years and see if we want to be part of it again. Five years is a very short horizon for a business enterprise to consider making a big investment, buying a company, creating a facility, and so we feel that actually that one is really counter-productive." 

Otherwise, Yaffe says there’s been good progress in many areas, and she’s hoping there’s a concerted effort to wrap up negotiations before elections in the US and Mexico get in the way. She says there’s also a sense of urgency when it comes to tariffs on steel and aluminum. 

"The blunt instrument of  the tariff was, I think, directed more at China than at Canada, but nonetheless we were caught up in it, maybe purposefully we were able to be exempted along with Mexico. But that too comes to an end, at the end of April, and we have to continue to be vigilant on that front."  

She says Canada supplies more steel to the US than anyone else, and 42% of aluminum. So how is Central New York impacted by trade with Canada? Yaffe says the 24 congressional district alone has 18,000 jobs that depend on trade, and 40 Canadian companies employ 1,000 people. Stephen King says exporters who’ve been comfortable with trade relations are getting a bit concerned by the recent instability. He’s director of the Central New York International Business Alliance. 

Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
Consul Yaffe and Stephen King, director of the Central New York International Business Alliance

"Business has been quite clear and it is easy to see what they can and they can't do, doing business across the border and the last six to nine months, or so, with NAFTA, being a hot subject, I think a lot of the exporters are sort of trained to see what the future holds and it's a little unclear for them." 

Of bigger concern, King says, is the US trade gap with China. He says many of the region’s exporters are under-exporting to China due to the difficulty of doing business there.