At a campaign rally last week in Mississippi, Donald Trump broke into song.
“Y-M-C-A,” the U.S. president sang for a moment, briefly and tentatively channelling the Village People.
He was singing because he wanted his supporters to remember the name of his new trade agreement. He calls it the USMCA, for U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
“Remember,” he told a Florida rally in early November. “If you have a problem remembering it, just think of the song YMCA. We love that song. USMCA.”
When the three countries reached the agreement in late September, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself informed Canadians that the deal was called the USMCA. Questioned on CBC radio, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said, “Yes, we do have to call it USMCA.”
But she has since stopped. So has Trudeau.
In official documents, they are calling it CUSMA, with Canada first. (“The legal name under Canadian law is CUSMA as Canada always comes first in treaties,” Freeland spokesperson Adam Austen said on Friday.) And in their own speeches, as Trudeau did in his own speech at the signing ceremony on Friday, they have simply been calling it “the new NAFTA.”
That is accurate enough, as the agreement retains almost all of NAFTA’s central provisions. It also serves Trudeau’s political purposes. NAFTA is a popular brand with Canadians; Trudeau, criticized by Conservatives for his concessions to Trump, has an interest in emphasizing how much has stayed the same.
Trump, a master salesman who has long derided NAFTA as the worst trade deal in world history, has different branding goals. The name USMCA not only helps him drive home his misleading claim that he has made NAFTA disappear. The order of the countries’ names serves to suggest he is delivering on his “America First” campaign slogan.
“U.S. is literally ‘first’ in this label — relegating Canada to a third spot. To any neutral observer in another country, U.S. would appear to be a dominant party in this partnership,” said Gurprit Kindra, a University of Ottawa professor of branding and marketing who has worked on government projects.
President Enrique Pena Nieto’s Mexican government debated at length on a Spanish name for the agreement. It settled on T-MEC, putting Mexico first — and reducing the United States, or Estados Unidos, to one letter from two.
Daniel Dale is the Star’s Washington bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @ddale8
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