Trade deal’s new name has Trump written all over it


OTTAWA — What’s in a name? Lots of jokes, apparently, if it’s the moniker for the revamped North American Free Trade Agreement.

While NAFTA rolled off the tongue and became almost as familiar to Canadians as RCMP and NHL, it appears the almost unpronounceable USMCA will take a little getting used to.

The acronym for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement was just minutes old when gags about the Village People song “YMCA” started bouncing around cyberspace.

A tongue-in-cheek tweeter suggested there could be confusion with the United States Minority Contractors Association or the United States Motorcycle Coaching Association.

One thing is clear: President Donald Trump wanted a new name for an agreement he has repeatedly denounced as a disaster for his country.

“I think NAFTA has a lot of bad connotations for the United States because it was a ripoff,” he said in late August.

With everything Trump, it’s all about branding, said Jonathan Rose, a political scientist at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

If the new deal were simply branded as NAFTA 2, it would appear the president had failed on his promise to repeal what he called the worst trade agreement in history, said Rose, who studies political communication and propaganda.

“USMCA allows him to save face with those who may remember his anti NAFTA screeds, because it’s not NAFTA.”

Rose also sees significance in the fact US comes first, M for Mexico second and C for Canada last.

It represents “one last effort at being punitive against Canada” and also telegraphs the Trump White House’s priorities on international trade, with Mexico literally coming before Canada, he added.

Michael Mulvey, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management, had one notion when he saw the name: “I thought America First.”

But he now accepts that it simply sorts the markets in order of size.

“I wouldn’t want to make too much about the name. It’s more about the outcomes and the implications, I think, for most people,” he said.

“If that’s a concession we had to make to get something else — protecting Canadian cultural institutions, or making sure that jobs are secure in a place like Oshawa — if they want the name, fine, take that.”

One of Canada’s biggest exports is comedians, he noted, so citizens of the Great White North should sit back “and have a good laugh about it.”

By Tuesday, even Trump seemed to be in on the joke as he explained USMCA to a convention of electrical workers: “Like YMCA or U.S. Marine Corps with an A at the end.”

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press