Some apprehension along Lake Ontario, St. Lawrence River about NAFTA negotiations

Nov 27, 2017

At the Novelis Aluminum plant in Oswego County, metal is processed for automotive companies like Ford, Toyota and General Motors. Novelis uses a lot of recycled metal, but most of its primary aluminum comes from Canada. 

The company's president of North American operations Marco Palmieri says that's because the U.S. makes less than a quarter of the aluminum the country needs.

"That is a big gap and big part of this gap is covered by Canada," Palmieri said. "Any change in the regulations there may cause a significant impact not only to Novelis and Oswego, but also to the aluminum industry in the U.S."

The Trump administration has threatened to withdraw from NAFTA. Palmieri says that would cause the company, and especially its Oswego County plant, to suffer. But Novelis is not the only company that benefits from the free flow of material across the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.

"Over 37 million metric tons of those products for all kinds of industries like mining, construction, steel agriculture products are being transported by ship on the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region and that’s every year," said Julia Fields, the communications director for the Canadian-based Chamber of Marine Commerce. "So any disruption or new tariffs that could disrupt that kind of trade would have knock-on effects."

The chamber is a binational association that represents marine industries on the St. Lawrence seaway and their customers. Fields says their members have expressed support for the current arrangement. 

"I think it’s really important that people understand the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region has been a very successful example of how the Canadian and U.S. economies are very integrated and supply chains are very integrated and that’s something we should be wanting to build on and create new opportunities from," Fields said.

Even with the risks, both Palmieri and Fields say the NAFTA negotiations do present an opportunity to modernize the agreement - as long as those changes don't limit the trade happening now.