TORONTO — Scotiabank CEO Brian Porter is calling for updates to the North American Free Trade Agreement, but he says positive dialogue about open trade is needed to combat the growing tide of protectionism emerging around the world.
“There’s angst out there,” Porter told reporters following the bank’s (TSX:BNS) annual shareholder meeting Tuesday.
Much of the worry around free trade stems from the fact that technological progress is changing the economy and, in some cases, eliminating jobs, Porter said.
“That’s the issue,” said Porter. “It’s not necessarily trade.”
NAFTA has been a hot topic of discussion since U.S. President Donald Trump announced plans to renegotiate the deal, which has been in place since 1994.
Scotiabank is the most geographically diversified of Canada’s biggest banks, with operations throughout Latin America, including Mexico, Peru, Chile and Colombia.
Porter said he would welcome moves to modernize the trade agreement, for instance by adding in provisions about services, e-commerce and intellectual property to better reflect “today’s realities.”
But he also spent a significant portion of his speech espousing the benefits of free trade — a direct rebuttal to the political movements taking place around the globe that Porter says threaten the long-held belief that open trade is an important driver of economic prosperity.
For instance, the introduction of NAFTA has resulted in millions of new jobs being created, while the value of goods traded throughout the continent has tripled, Porter said.
“Open markets are good,” Porter told reporters after the meeting. “You can’t give me any number or any measure that says that’s not the case.”
However, business leaders and politicians will need to do more to address the concerns of people who feel that their livelihoods have been threatened by open markets, Porter said.
For example, there should be training opportunities to help displaced workers get back into the workforce, he said.