DETROIT—The North American Free Trade Agreement "is going to blow up in 2018."
That blunt assessment comes from the equally blunt Jerry Dias, president of the Canadian union Unifor.
Dias has long been a harsh critic of NAFTA. He says it has been disastrous for Canadian and U.S. manufacturing workers—on that much, he and President Donald Trump agree. And it hasn't done much for Mexican workers, whose low wages and weak labor rights prevent them from being able to afford the vehicles they build, he said.
Dias, for his part, would prefer to see NAFTA not scrapped, but strengthened with better wage and labor standards for Mexicans that would make Canadian manufacturing a more competitive proposition and help stem the southward migration of jobs.
Many private-sector interests still hold out hope that the Trump administration's hard-line positions are simply negotiating tactics that will lead to a compromise, or that Congress will block attempts to unwind a deal that has helped increase U.S. manufacturing exports by 258 percent since its inception.
But given where the talks stand now, Dias said, that won't happen.
"I'm convinced that unless Donald Trump folds, which he won't, then NAFTA is gone," Dias said during a nearly 90-minute editorial board meeting with Automotive News.
If that happens, Dias said, a pre-existing U.S.-Canada free-trade agreement will live on.
Dias said that while he's not at the negotiating table, he has a close-up view of the proceedings. He is among a group of stakeholders consulting with Canadian officials on the pact and has had multiple meetings with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, chief negotiator Steve Verheul and other Canadian officials, as well as U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
"I've been having unfettered access to those who make the decisions, but I've also had a complete green light, understood and sanctioned by the government, to say whatever the heck I feel like," Dias said. "It's not as if they're going to change my mind. But they understand that bringing in labor as part of the team is quite helpful."