Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, goes about her work in a manner one might describe as hard-nosed. The former reporter prefers direct questions over diplomatic niceties and face-to-face conversations over briefing notes. “You have to talk to a lot of people to get the real story,” she says. In September of last year, Freeland and her top negotiators and advisers met with former prime minister Brian Mulroney in Toronto, at his office in the law firm Norton Rose Fulbright. Mulroney had a story that Freeland needed to hear: how he pushed the North American Free Trade Agreement through negotiations. In 1992, when Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government signed NAFTA, the Liberal Party of Canada fiercely opposed him; now, Freeland was seeking his advice in her attempt to keep the deal alive.

As recently as October 2015, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals took office, Canada’s status as a trading nation appeared secure. NAFTA seemed carved into the country’s bedrock—at the time, the agreement accounted for more than $1 trillion (US) in cross-border merchandise trade—and Canada was closing in on free-trade deals with both the European Union and a consortium of Pacific nations. However, just over a year later, the incipient Trans-Pacific Partnership was a shadow of its former self after the United States abandoned it, and NAFTA was suddenly imperilled after the election of Donald Trump, who, ever since his campaign, has promised to renegotiate or scrap the agreement.

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