Victory on NAFTA means limiting damage

We will enjoy debating the wisdom of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s NAFTA strategy someday.


But for now, that is a waste time. Our partners in the North American Free Trade Agreement have come up with a revised deal and they want us to sign by the end of the week. Trudeau must decide if the gains from ending a yearlong distraction outweigh accepting an agreement that will include a fair number of concessions.


The decision will be complicated by the promise — repeated over and over by Chrystia Freeland, the global affairs minister and lead NAFTA negotiator — that Canada would settle for nothing less than a “win-win-win.”


I forget what baseball reporters were writing back in the spring, but I suspect the managers of the Toronto Blue Jays went into Opening Day promising a winning season. Like the Jays, no one should have taken seriously that Canada might “win” something in this negotiation. The real objective always was to contain damage, and therefore victory should be measured by the extent to which Canada emerges unscathed.


“Failing to secure even a �bad deal’ for Canada would be devastating for the country,” said Meredith Lilly, a trade professor at Carleton University and one of the few former advisers of Stephen Harper who isn’t reflexively opposed to everything Trudeau does. “With no NAFTA deal or regard for international trade rules, there is little to stop a petulant and vengeful president from introducing tariffs on other Canadian exports, or from obstructing cross-border flows of goods and people.”


It’s noteworthy that Trudeau on Aug. 29 framed a successful NAFTA outcome differently than he had previously; instead of talking about a win, or refusing to sign a “bad” agreement, he said he was s


Details will matter. The United States has a history of using trade agreements to write rules around intellectual property that make it harder for upstarts to compete against that country’s technology giants, for example. So it’s possible Canada’s negotiators will uncover language in the U.S.-Mexico arrangement that would severely curtail the ability of Canada’s emerging tech companies to gain market share.


Trump has supplied all the evidence necessary to support Trudeau’s fight to retain a dispute-settlement mechanism, and he should walk away from an agreement that doesn’t contain one.


To be sure, the U.S. International Trade Commission overturned malicious duties on Canadian newsprint on Aug. 29, a sign that Washington’s institutions are capable of resisting Trump’s protectionist agenda.


Still, former prime minister Brian Mulroney made dispute-resolution a deal-breaker during the negotiations that led to the original Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement for a reason. The U.S. has an arsenal of trade laws that can do lots of damage if placed in the hands of the wrong president, as Canada and plenty of other countries have been reminded. An agreement without a check on that sort of abuse would be of little benefit to Canada, considering a significant number of companies don’t apply for the preferential NAFTA duties because they can’t be bothered to deal with the paperwork.


But if the offer instead is a series of relatively minor concessions, including some additional access for U.S. dairy farmers, the right deal for Canada at this stage would be a completed one. The country’s international competitiveness has eroded over the decade since the financial crisis, and uncertainty about trade isn’t helping.


The situation isn’t as bad as Conservatives and some business lobbyists describe it, but nor is it as rosy as Liberals such as Jim Carr, the trade minister, seem to believe. Foreign direct investment in Canada increased 1.9 per cent in 2017 from the previous year, the fourth consecutive year that growth slowed. The average annual increase is about seven per cent, ted according to Statistics Canada data that goes back to 1987. Something is wrong. That thing might be bigger than NAFTA, but a protracrade battle with Trump can only makes things worse.     


“The test for the Canadian (government) in coming days is whether they want to continue to play chicken with the Canadian economy to aid the anti-Trump �resistance’ or whether they want to look for a reasonable exit ramps from a trade war that can only be won in faculty lounges,” Mark Warner, a Toronto-based trade lawyer, saidon Twitter on Aug. 28.


New data show that trade uncertainty isn’t having a dramatic effect on investment. StatCan reported on Aug. 29 that non-Canadians invested $8.9 billion in Canada in the second quarter, suggesting foreign investment is back at a more normal level after last year’s slump.


But I would encourage the officials at Finance and Trade to dig a little deeper. StatCan measures the extent to which Canadian companies reinvest profits earned abroad in their foreign affiliates. The number has surged over the past year to $11.7 billion in the second quarter from about $9 billion in the second half of 2016 and about $6 billion in the first quarter of 2016. Much of that spending is taking place in the United States: more than 50 per cent in the first and second quarters, after seven consecutive quarters in which the U.S. accounted for less than half of such investment. В 


There are too many variables to draw conclusions from those figures alone. Still, Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz has warned that some companies will choose to hedge against the collapse of NAFTA by expanding in the U.S. rather than at home. And that might be exactly what’s happening.


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Vacuum maker Dyson plans expansion for UK electric car site

LONDON — Dyson, the British company best known for its ground-breaking vacuum cleaners, said Thursday that it has submitted a planning application to expand facilities at a former British military airfield to develop electric vehicles.


The company said Thursday it plans to build more than 10 miles (16 kilometres) of test tracks at the former Hullavington Airfield in southern England. The cars are expected to launch in 2021.


It also plans new office buildings for more than 2,000 staff that will eventually be employed at the site.


Billionaire founder James Dyson, one of Britain’s most successful entrepreneurs, has been a prominent advocate of Brexit but has faced criticism for moving much of the firm’s production to Asia. Dyson has said that the British government should leave the EU immediately, then work out trade deals with the bloc and others.


The company said it will invest 2 billion pounds ($2.6 billion) overall in its electric car program.


The company has already restored two hangars dating from 1938, where 400 employees now work. In the next phase of development at the 750-acre site, the company is proposing to build tracks to put battery-powered vehicles through their paces, including handling and stability, off-road driving, a skid pan and a high speed runway for speeds above 100 miles per hour (161 km/h).

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Memory chip maker Micron announces $3B expansion in Manassas

MANASSAS, Va. — One of the world’s largest semiconductor companies is making a $3 billion investment in northern Virginia to expand its manufacturing facility and add 1,100 jobs.


Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday that the decision by Boise, Idaho-based Micron Technology to expand its Manassas facility is “one of the largest manufacturing investments in the history of this commonwealth” at a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday.


Micron decided to expand its existing facility in Manassas after considering offers from competing domestic and international locations, including Singapore. Micron CEO Sanjay Mehrotra said the success of the existing facility as well as the economic incentives offered by the state and the city of Manassas helped tip the scales in Virginia’s favour.


Micron’s decision comes as northern Virginia continues to court tech giant Amazon as it seeks a location for a $5 billion second headquarters that could employ as many as 50,000.


Stephen Moret, CEO of the state’s economic development authority, said winning the battle for Micron provides the state a measure of momentum as it competes with 19 other jurisdictions for Amazon, though he also cautioned against reading too much into how any specific factor might be weighed by Amazon.


“Any time a top-flight company goes through a competitive site selection process …. to win that competition is a major signal to corporate America and executives around the world,” Moret said.


The incentives include a planned $70 million grant from the state, and a series of tax breaks offered by Manassas, a city about 40 miles west of the nation’s capital that was eager to keep the company that serves as its largest employer and taxpayer.


The $70 million in state funds will require approval from the General Assembly. Moret said the grant is too large for the administration to fund it out of the discretionary funds available to the governor through the Commonwealth Opportunity Fund.


While 1,100 jobs is a significant number, the $3 billion investment by Micron is what elevates it as one of the Virginia’s economic development deals. Micron’s plans include an expansion of its high-tech “clean room” for manufacture of semiconductors and memory storage units that primarily will be used in automotive and industrial contexts.


Moret said the $3 billion figure demonstrates the level of long commitment Micron is making to northern Virginia.


About 1,200 people currently work at the Manassas plant. Mehrotra said the plant employs a combination of engineers with four-year degrees and technicians who have a scientific bent but whose post-secondary education comes through community colleges.

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Significant court decision could determine Trans Mountain’s fate: experts

VANCOUVER — A court decision expected Thursday could determine the fate of the contentious Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and further define Canada’s duty to consult with First Nations, experts say.


The Federal Court of Appeal is to rule on a case that combined nearly two dozen lawsuits calling for the National Energy Board’s review of Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd.’s project to be overturned.


First Nations, including the Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish on British Columbia’s south coast, argued the federal government did not adequately consult them before the energy board review or the cabinet decision to approve the project.


A ruling in the Indigenous groups’ favour would be likely to kill the multibillion-dollar pipeline expansion that Canada has offered to purchase, said George Hoberg, a public policy professor at the University of British Columbia.


“If the Federal Court strikes down the permit authorizing the pipeline because of inadequate consultation, or for another reason, then I don’t see how the pipeline project can proceed — unless or until the Supreme Court reversed that decision,” he said.


Lawyers for the federal government told court that Ottawa conducted extensive consultation. If the government wins, the project will move forward, but a “very strong, persistent campaign of civil disobedience” by protesters in B.C. will persist, Hoberg said.


The decision is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada either way, Hoberg predicted, and another 18 months to two years will pass before it’s settled.


Environmental groups and the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby also challenged the project in Federal Court last November, They were supported by the province of British Columbia, which was an intervener, as was Alberta. The province’s lawyer said Ottawa’s decision to approve the pipeline’s expansion between Edmonton and Metro Vancouver was based on a broad base of evidence that considered environmental, economic and Indigenous interests.


Kinder Morgan shareholders are set to vote on whether to approve the sale of the pipeline and expansion project to the Canadian government for $4.5 billion on Thursday morning, 30 minutes after the court decision is released.


The timing is a coincidence, said Amelie Lavictoire, executive director of the Federal Court of Appeal.


Asked if Canada could walk away from the deal if the ruling quashes the permit, a Finance Department spokesman said the agreement has been signed and there’s no backing out.


The government undertook a “very vigorous” review process before approving the project and is confident it will win the case, Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi said Tuesday.


“We await their decision … and we will respond accordingly, but we are moving forward on this project because this project is in the national interest.”


A ruling against the government would probably slow down the project but not necessarily stop it, said Werner Antweiler, a business professor at UBC.


“Ultimately, the federal government has legislative powers to see this project through,” he said in an email.


“The political cost will be substantially higher, though, if the court finds that the NEB failed in its duty to consult and accommodate Indigenous communities.”


The Crown’s duty to consult does not equal a veto power for First Nations, Antweiler said, and the decision will come down to what the court deems adequate consultation.


Rueben George, manager of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s Sacred Trust Initiative, said Canada never intended to consult in good faith and he expects the case to wind up in the Supreme Court.


“What I want is for the best interests of Canada — and that’s for this pipeline not to go through,” he said.


Kinder Morgan has already won several court victories, including one last week when the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed an application from the City of Burnaby to overturn a lower court decision.


Dwight Newman, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Rights at the University of Saskatchewan, suggested Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government learned from a Federal Court ruling in 2016. It found the previous administration had failed to adequately consult with First Nations on Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline.


The Liberal government further consulted with Indigenous groups and other stakeholders on the Trans Mountain project later that year, he noted.


“You might anticipate, then, that they have fulfilled consultation and the First Nation claims might be unsuccessful. But there could be a new surprise out of this case yet.”


Companies in this story: (TSX:KML), (TSX:ENB)


— With files from Bill Graveland in Calgary

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U.S. International Trade Commission expected to vote today on newsprint duties

The U.S. International Trade Commission is expected to vote today on whether to uphold duties imposed on Canadian newsprint imports.


The vote comes as U.S. newspapers have campaigned heavily to lift the duties that have pushed a core expense higher and forced layoffs at some papers.


The U.S. Commerce Department imposed anti-dumping and countervailing duties of various levels on Canadian producers including Resolute Forest Product, Catalyst Paper Corp., and Kruger Inc. earlier this year.


The duties came about after Washington-based North Pacific Paper Co. complained Canada was dumping newsprint into the American market and unfairly subsidizing its industry at home.


It is the same argument made regarding Canada’s softwood industry, which led to the imposition of both countervailing and anti-dumping duties on most Canadian softwood exports to the United States.


The U.S. says US$1.21 billion worth of uncoated groundwood paper used for newspapers, commercial printing and book publishing was imported from Canada last year.


Companies in this story: (TSX:RFP)

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Airport expansion eyed for New Mexico’s booming oil region

LOVINGTON, N.M. — Officials in southeastern New Mexico’s booming oil and gas region want to expand their regional airport.


The Hobbs News-Sun reports Lea County commissioners voted last week to seek a construction contractor to start expansion at the Lea County Regional Airport.


Officials say the current 4,800-square-foot facility contains a security section with no restrooms and an insufficient seating area for passengers.


Commissioners were told that the Federal Aviation Administration and the New Mexico Department of Transportation likely will cover the estimated $4.1 million, 7,800-square-foot expansion.


Other amenities to be provided or upgraded include an improved baggage claim area, the ticketing area, spaces for food vending and room for three rental car agencies.

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California wine country fires leave homeowners struggling

SANTA ROSA, Calif. — Construction crews have already put up the frame on Cheri Sharp’s new house, but she still questions whether rebuilding was the right choice after California’s most destructive wildfire took her old home in wine country nearly a year ago.


She’s had to dip into retirement savings to cover a $300,000 shortfall in her homeowner’s insurance coverage.


“We just kind of thought we were taken care of,” Sharp, 54, said about her insurance policy. “If I had to do it over again, I’d probably change my mind and move.”


The wind-whipped wildfire that tore through Northern California in October 2017, killing 22 people and destroying more than 5,500 structures, left many people in Sharp’s position: underinsured and having to scramble for money to build a new home on their property.


Santa Rosa was the hardest-hit city, with entire neighbourhoods burned to ashes. But as of late August, only nine of nearly 2,700 single-family homes lost here had been rebuilt, according to figures from the city’s permitting office. Another 520 or so were under construction.


Many homeowners say they are locked in negotiations with insurance companies for additional money to cover the cost of building a home at the edge of the San Francisco Bay Area, where a technology boom has sent home prices skyrocketing. That, coupled with competition among neighbours for construction crews and materials, has left many homeowners hundreds of thousands of dollars in the red.


For Santa Rosa native Alex Apons, 34, the insurance shortfall on his home in the tidy Coffey Park neighbourhood was $200,000. He and his wife wanted to stay because they had a baby on the way and both have deep family roots in the area. They used every insurance dollar they received to pay off the mortgage of their 4-year-old home that burned. There was nothing left for a down payment on construction.


“We had to drain our bank account,” said Apons, now father to a 5-month-old boy, Etienne. “After everything is built, we’re looking at a monthly payment on that loan that’s $1,000 more than what our mortgage was before.”


Other fire victims are still torn by indecision that has kept them from committing to a rebuild — do they stay and bear the costs or start over elsewhere?


“The idea of leaving California is very hard, but on the other hand, I don’t know if I can recover from all the trauma of it without removing myself from all the stimuli,” said Katherine Gaynor, 67, also a former Coffey Park resident.


Besides the Santa Rosa blaze, several other major wildfires the same month took out thousands of homes elsewhere in Sonoma County and in neighbouring Napa County. As of April, nearly two-thirds of those fire victims wanted to rebuild, but most had yet to settle insurance claims for their property and belongings, according to a survey by United Policyholders, a San Francisco-based non-profit that helps people understand their insurance policies. Two-thirds of respondents reported being underinsured by an average of $317,000.


Insurance industry experts warn that many Californians whose homes have been destroyed in this year’s wildfires also will discover their policies will not cover the cost of a new home, leading to similar rebuilding delays. So far in 2018, wildfires have scorched about 1,000 square miles (2,600 square kilometres) in parts of Shasta, Trinity, Mendocino, Lake, Colusa and Glenn; more than 1,200 homes have been destroyed, and nine people have died.


Insurance companies value homes using factors including their size, purchase price and the price of homes around them. Few homeowners update their policies annually to keep up with inflation, labour and material costs and home upgrades that increase the value. Insurance companies want to keep premiums low to compete with rivals and attract customers.


When Apons’ wife, Heather, called their insurance company this month to request a new homeowners’ insurance quote, the agent provided a figure that would pay them $340,000 less than the current price tag to reconstruct their house. The agent said better coverage would raise their premium considerably, she recalled.


“I’m like, �I don’t care. I don’t ever want to be underinsured again,”� she said.


After massive fires across Southern California over the past decade, the state Department of Insurance found that insurance companies often understated replacement costs to potential customers and omitted or misrepresented fees for permitting, architects, labour and zoning, California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said.


A false sense of security is common among the insured because most rely on insurance companies for details, said Amy Bach, executive director of United Policyholders, an advocacy group for insurance consumers.


“If anything, people suspect they’re over-insured,” she said.


Bach said out-of-town insurance adjusters often fail to properly value homes in the San Francisco area. In Sonoma County, property values increase about 10 per cent every year, according to Pacific Union Real Estate, a leading real estate group in the region.


Jim Whittle, chief counsel for trade group the American Insurance Association, said it’s up to consumers to make sure they have enough insurance. After mass catastrophes, “there’s almost always going to be situations where people don’t have quite what they wanted or expected,” Whittle said.


Sharp and her husband, Paul, held hands on a recent morning as they surveyed construction of their new home on the Santa Rosa property where they raised their kids, held backyard parties and enjoyed the sunset. They know their use of retirement savings to fund the project will make it harder to live comfortably and travel as they age.


“Our life from here on out is very different going into our retirement years,” Cheri Sharp said.


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