5 Minutes for Business: Fighting for NAFTA—Better to Have No Deal than a Bad Deal
Monday, October 16, 2017
Never in the history of trade negotiations have we seen a country’s largest, most important business association openly call its government’s trade proposals “dangerous” and say they should be withdrawn. That is exactly what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce did yesterday.
Canada’s negotiators have done their very best in a challenging environment. They have reached out to Canadian people and business, they have extended a warm hand of friendship to their U.S. and Mexican counterparts and they have tabled sensible, generous proposals to improve NAFTA. But, we all have to prepare for the possibility that the U.S. will withdraw from NAFTA, based on the poisonous proposals U.S. negotiators have presented.
The craziest is a sunset clause that would terminate NAFTA after five years unless all three parties agree it should continue. Imagine the uncertainty of having all three countries debate the merits of trade every five years. How could anyone plan to build a factory with a useful life of 30 years? NAFTA would cease to exist for the purposes of long-term business investment.
The second troubling proposal concerns the rules of origin. Currently, 62.5% of a car or a truck must be produced in the U.S., Mexico or Canada for it to qualify for duty-free treatment under NAFTA. The U.S.’s proposal would require that 50% of the vehicle be produced in the U.S. This would be immensely harmful to the North American auto industry. It’s impossible to replace long-established multi-billion- dollar supply chains so most companies would simply pay the generally low U.S. tariffs. Manufacturers would then source more inputs from Asia.
The third concern is the administration’s proposal to eliminate Chapter 19, the process for dispute settlement for anti-dumping and countervailing duties.
This comes at a time where the U.S. wants to impose a ludicrous 300% tariff on Bombardier jets, which is above even what Boeing had asked for. Chapter 19 is a critical safety net because it enables an independent, binational panel of five arbiters, agreed by both parties, to determine whether or not the duties have merit based on U.S. domestic laws. This is a must-have for Canada.
The final jaw-dropping proposal would drastically reshape NAFTA’s procurement rules. U.S. negotiators are proposing a “dollar for dollar” approach to North American procurement markets. That would mean “the total value of contracts the Canadians and Mexicans could access, together, couldn’t exceed the total value that U.S. firms could win in those two countries.” This is quite simply the worst offer ever featured in a trade agreement and is worse than basic access to government procurement offered under the WTO. Canada would be better off with no agreement at all than signing on to this nutty nonsense.
At the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, we salute the government’s efforts on NAFTA. The government has done everything possible: our negotiators have been outstanding, Minister Freeland and the entire Cabinet have invested enormous time in building relationships in the U.S., and the PM has invested his political capital and considerable charm to go to bat for NAFTA.
ut, if the U.S. administration is not serious about negotiating a mutually beneficial agreement, then we believe no deal is preferable to a bad deal. This is because a trade agreement will last many years. The Trump administration, we’re not so sure…
Growing coalition confirms tax proposals will affect middle-class business owners
Thursday, September 28, 2017
Leading tax practitioners say that business owners with income as low as $50K will be affected
Ottawa, September 27, 2017 – The Coalition for Small Business Tax Fairness, a unified voice of more than 70 organizations representing hundreds of thousands of business owners across the country, has written a new letter to Finance Minister Bill Morneau with professional analysis confirming that Ottawa’s tax proposals will affect middle-class business owners, resulting in higher tax rates than other Canadians with similar income levels.
“We are alarmed by the huge gap between the government’s statements about the impact of their proposals and the detailed analysis by Canada’s tax professionals,” said Dan Kelly, President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and member of the Coalition. “Tax practitioners are united in the view that these changes have the potential to affect all small business taxpayers, no matter their income.”
"It is the farmers, mom and pop shops, and entrepreneurs, who invested everything into their businesses, that will be most affected by these changes, instead of targeting the real problem. The government needs to go back to the drawing board, hold a real consultation and listen to what tax professionals, provincial governments and the business owners who fuel the growth of our communities are saying," added Perrin Beatty, President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
The government has claimed that these proposals would not affect business owners with incomes under $150,000. Tax practitioners disagree.
One of the new rules introduced by the government would restrict small business owners from sharing income with family members. Tax practitioners say that this can affect business owners with incomes as modest as $50,000. Also, as two-thirds of Canadian incorporated businesses are majority owned by men, the restrictions on sharing income with a spouse are likely to remove a disproportionately higher number of women from benefiting from their family’s business.
The government is also proposing changes that would discourage small business owners from holding certain types of investments in the incorporated company. According to tax practitioners, business owners retain business earnings in the corporation to safeguard against economic downturns, secure bank financing and invest in other start-up companies.
Tax practitioners have confirmed that the proposed tax changes would result in higher combined corporate and personal taxes for business owners across the board and in many cases, small business owners would incur tax rates far greater than what an employee with a similar level of income would pay.
The Coalition, which has doubled in size since August 31, is asking the federal government to review carefully the analyses of tax professionals across the country, take these proposals off of the table, and launch meaningful consultations with the business community to address any shortcomings in tax policy.
The Coalition for Small Business Tax Fairness is encouraging business owners and other concerned Canadians to contact their Members of Parliament and use the hashtags #unfairtaxchanges #taxesinéquitables on social media. For the full list of Coalition members, please visit smallbiztaxfairness.ca.
For media enquiries or interviews, please contact:
Media Relations Specialist
What some are saying:
“The agriculture equipment manufacturing sector represents 12,000 Canadians and their families predominantly in rural areas; as entrepreneurs who have put their lives on the line to invest in and grow their family business, the sector consistently exports more than $1.8 billion of farm equipment to over 150 countries. The scope and complexity of the proposed tax changes puts a lot of this at stake, and we must fight to ensure that fairness prevails for our members.” — Leah Olson, President, Agricultural Manufacturers of Canada
“Franchisees are the backbone of the communities they serve, by employing people of all backgrounds, supporting local initiatives, and helping grow the economy. As business owners, they assume significant risk, but have been able to achieve success through hard work and support from family members. Simply stated, CFA believes the changes being proposed by the Minister will hurt Canadian franchisees.” — Ryan J. Eickmeier, Vice President, Government Relations & Public Policy, Canadian Franchise Association
“The residential construction and renovation industry has always largely consisted of family-run businesses that help build the communities they operate and live in, many over several generations. These are hard-working Canadians trying to earn a middle-class living, hire local workers, and create a future for their families. The government’s proposed tax changes threaten the very existence of these businesses, posing a threat to small local companies in every community and the jobs they create.” —Kevin Lee, CEO, Canadian Home Builders’ Association
“We look forward to working with the Minister of Finance to ensure that any changes help secure the future of agriculture and not hinder it.” — Mark Wales, Chair of the Canadian Horticultural Council’s Business Risk Management Committee
“We are fully supportive of the government’s pledge to advance evidence-based policy-making. Our members are concerned that the government’s proposed changes to small business taxes are not sufficiently informed by the level of research, analysis and consultation required to ensure a full appreciation of the impacts this will have on Canadians - not just entrepreneurs and small business owners but also on the overall health of the Canadian economy and competitiveness in the short and long term.” — Leigh Harris, Vice Chair (Interim) National Board of Directors, CMC-Canada
“Canadian business families are scared, confused, and demoralized. Years of planning for business succession will potentially go up in smoke! And we’re being called tax cheats along the way. Canada can do better, we must do better—our economy depends on it.”— Allen S. Taylor, Chair, Family Enterprise Xchange
“These egregious proposed tax changes would negatively impact the family farm in ways that are both profound and complex. The federal government needs to reverse course on their ill-advised tax hike attack on our middle-class family farms. — Levi Wood, President of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, grain farmer
Letter Sent to the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce Membership
The federal government's recent small business tax proposal is punitive and will have damaging effects on business communities in Ontario and across the country.Over the summer, the federal Finance Department has made it clear that it intends to make the most sweeping changes to business taxes in 50 years.These proposed changes will negatively impact tens of thousands of businesses by raising taxes, reducing incentive for private investment, increasing administrative burdens, and making it even more difficult for a business to be transferred from one generation to the next.
Family businesses and family farms are being touted as tax cheats by the Federal Government. Although, they have walked that back - the fact is they have described legitimate and legal use of the tax laws are wrong and most commonly referred to as a loophole. This is not only ignorance of what it takes to build a successful business, but makes Canada the only country in the world to impose such punitive tax measures on small business. It is clear, this government has no respect for business, especially the locally owned family business.
The immediate reaction from our members and businesses across Canada was negative. We are particularly worried about the effects of the proposed tax changes for small and medium sized businesses - who are essential to our thriving local business community. We encourage local businesses to contact our MP to provide feedback on the possible changes.
Bryan May, M.P., Cambridge & North Dumfries
534 Hespeler Road (Main Office)
Cambridge, Ontario N1R 6J7
Telephone: 519-624-7440 Fax: 519-624-3517
As an organization, we support reasonable attempts to reduce tax evasion or loopholes. However, these changes are insulting to businesses that have worked within the rules in good faith to build their businesses, to save for retirement, and sometimes just to keep their doors open.
Small Business is Too Big To Ignore and we need to demonstrate this with one voice.
If you're not a small business owner but work for one, ask Mr. May and Mr. Tabbara to protect YOUR job by supporting small business entrepreneurs in Cambridge.
Are you a business owner? Your MP needs to hear from you
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
If your business is incorporated, you could be facing a larger tax bill and big compliance costs from the government’s new proposals to change the way corporations are taxed. Here are three things you need to know about the tax changes proposed by the federal government:
Do you employ family members? The government wants to scrutinize their compensation to apply a much higher tax rate on income they consider “unreasonable.”
Do you invest the profits from your business? The federal government is proposing to tax that income at an effective rate of 70%.
Do you want to pass your business on to your children? Tough new rules make it difficult for younger kids to get the capital gains exemption. They could be double-taxed.
Small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) are the engine of the Canadian economy – estimates range from 85 to 90% of all businesses in Canada are SMEs.
The chamber network across Canada is using its collective voice on this issue; your voice as a business person needs to be heard as part of this initiative. Send a message to your MP today. Government needs to know that this tax reform will harm businesses of all sizes.
Don’t know where to send the message to your Member of Parliament? Look up their address using your postal code.
Thirty-five business groups, including the Canadian Chamber—on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of members they represent—have presented a letter to Finance Minister Bill Morneau asking the government to take these proposals off the table and instead meet with the business community to address any shortcomings in tax policy affecting private corporations.
5 Minutes for Business: Hammering Business – Finance Canada’s New Crackdown
Wednesday, August 23, 2017
These are not tweaks! The government has just proposed the most radical tax overhaul in 50 years. We’re particularly worried about the impact on business from (1) a new tax on investment income in a corporation and (2) tough new rules for compensation in family businesses. Why is the government doing this?
The Minister says it’s all about “fairness,” and his consultation document compares the tax treatment of a business owner with that of an employee to point out corporations have “unfair” advantages. But, the comparison makes no sense—there are good public policy reasons for why owners are taxed differently.
Because unlike an employee, a business owner doesn’t get a pension or health benefits or vacation pay. She invested her own money to get the business started. Or, she pledged her personal assets (house, car) as collateral for a loan. She has employees who depend on her. And, if nobody wants her goods or services next month, she does not earn a penny.
That’s why in every advanced economy in the world, businesses can accumulate and invest after-tax retained earnings so they have money to get them through an economic downturn or to make big capital investments. One owner told us, “I keep most of the earnings in the company because we’re trying to grow and because in construction, we go through tough cycles when business dries up.”
The government wants to tax “passive” (invested) income. It says it’s a crackdown on “high income individuals,” but the rules would apply to all incorporated businesses in Canada, most of whom are restaurants, retailers, farmers and consultants—to punish them for saving and investing. It gets worse!
Finance Canada also expects to raise $250 million by cracking down on “unreasonable” salaries paid to family members, which it says diverts corporate income into lower tax brackets. But, to pull in $250 million, CRA will have to tax over $1 billion in salaries and audit hundreds of thousands of businesses. Imagine the litigation! You’re paying your spouse $80K, but the CRA believes he or she should only be earning $50K. Do you go to Tax Court? An owner told us, “if my son had not worked 12 hours a day, my business might not have succeeded. Painting us all as cheaters is unfair and discriminatory.”
Incredibly, Finance Canada has managed to design a set of tax measures that would hit the maximum number of businesses in the most complicated way for a small amount of revenue. The expected $250 million is less than 1% of the federal deficit.
Nobody supports tax evasion or loopholes. But these changes will punish legitimate businesses. And, they come after the government cancelled reductions in the small business tax rate, tightened rules on partnerships and started taxing work in progress. That’s on top of new carbon taxes, raised CPP premiums and an increase in the EI rate. Our members are asking why this government keeps raising taxes on business.
We’re not sure what to tell them, but there is an important test ahead. Finance Canada has launched a consultation even though it is clearly determined to move forward—the legislation is already drafted. So email or call your local MP to tell him/her the government is proposing to hammer business with tax changes that will hurt families and punish
entrepreneurs. Only MPs have the power to slam the brakes on Finance Canada’s runaway train.
For more information, please contact :
Senior Director, Economic, Financial & Tax Policy
613.238.4000 (284) | email@example.com
5 Minutes for Business: The Explosive Debate around Minimum Wage
Thursday, July 20, 2017
Big increases to minimum wage are becoming fashionable in Canada: first Alberta (from $12.20 currently to $15 in October 2018), then B.C. (from $10.35 to $11.35 in September 2017) and now Ontario (from $11.40 to $15.00 in January 2019, a 30% hike in 18 months). Are workers better off or does it mean fewer jobs?
The debate has been ferocious because economists don’t agree, but let’s look at the fundamentals. The government accepts that carbon taxes are effective at reducing emissions because if you make something more expensive, people will use less of it. We agree, but the same logic must apply to wages. And, actually, a business owner faced with the rising cost of an input (labour) has three options:
Absorb the added cost out of her profit margin
Reduce use of labour by substituting in morecapital or simply making do with less work
Let’s take these in order. Some businesses are so spectacularly profitable that owners can just absorb rising labour costs. But Apple and Microsoft don’t use minimum wage labour. If we look at profit margin by industry, the biggest users of minimum wage labour are in retail and food service, with razor thin (below 3%) margins. There is very little room to absorb these costs, and if a business is not profitable, there is not much point in keeping it going.
What about raising prices? The critical ingredient in business success is getting the right price point for your market. One restauranteur told us that the lunch menu in her neighborhood has to be $5-$8, any higher means flirting with disaster. In retail, the competition is with online giants, like Amazon. Often, there is no room to raise prices without driving away customers.
The third option to cope with rising wages is making do with less staff. This is controversial because many studies show that minimum wage can be increased without a corresponding rise in unemployment.
That’s why the recent Seattle study produced such a bombshell. Washington state collects detailed data on hours worked and it showed how part time workers with irregular schedules are cut back. Seattle’s minimum wage hike reduced the total hours worked by the low-wage workforce by about 9% while raising their wages by only about 3%. The net loss to workers was an average of $125 a month. This is a big, immediate hit to the most vulnerable workers.
There is some evidence that modest increases in minimum wage can be done without disrupting labour markets, but governments have to be cautious about hurting competiveness. Previously, I had said there are three options to deal with rising costs, but there is actually a fourth and a fifth option: shut down or move to a different jurisdiction. Let’s provide input to the Government of Ontario to prevent this from happening. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has
done some great work on this issue and has a report that can be viewed here.
The Liberal government wants to introduce a minimum wage increase to $15 dollars an hour by 2019. This isn't a move that best helps the people of Ontario nor is it the right move. Funny enough... These newly reformed labour laws won't fully come into effect until AFTER the provincial election is over with. Is it about helping the people of this province? Or is it a move for someone to keep their Premier job?
5 Minutes for Business: How Europe Got Her Groove Back
Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Poor Europe! She suffered years of economic stagnation and austerity. Costly government bailouts and a drawn-out banking crisis sapped her confidence. Terrorism and an unprecedented surge of migrants poisoned political debate and encouraged extremists. The final insult came when the British voted to leave her.
Except that didn’t happen. The elections came and went. The Austrians and the Dutch elected moderates by healthy margins. The Trudeau-like French centrist Mr. Macron won the French presidency by a staggering 30%, in a victory so crushing that his opponent Mme. Le Pen announced her intention to change the name of her political party. Far from a wave of Trumps, Europe is governed by sensible moderates (with the exception of Orban in Hungary).
In the first quarter of 2017, the European Union’s economy grew at a healthy 1.9%, more than double the U.S. quarterly growth of 0.7%. European business confidence is near an all-time high for manufacturers and services. More importantly, business is spending – European investment will grow by 3% this year and 3.5% next year. And best of all: European consumers are a happy bunch with low debt levels and money to burn. Last week, consumer confidence hit the highest level since June 2007. Happy days are here again!
So far in 2017, some of Canada’s fastest growing export markets can be found in Europe. Exports to Germany are up 9%, sales to France are up 14% and the Netherlands are up 10%. And Canada’s investments in Europe are even larger. The total sales by Canadianowned companies operating in Europe exceeds $100 billion. That’s more than triple the value of Canada’s direct exports to the region.
And thanks to far-sighted trade ministers, Ed Fast and Chrystia Freeland, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) will come into force soon. We’ve all been so focused on the NAFTA renegotiation and those fabulous 3 a.m. tweets. Let’s not lose sight of a spectacular opportunity for Canadian business. With 500 million people and GDP of $18.5 trillion, the EU is the world’s largest economy, so a return to stability and growth will have a stimulating effect on the whole global economy. Welcome back Europe!
For more information, please contact :
Hendrik Brakel Senior Director, Economic, Financial & Tax Policy
5 Minutes for Business: Fast and Furious—Negotiating NAFTA
Friday, May 26, 2017
Tick-tock! The U.S. Trade Representative just sent the official notification to Congress that NAFTA negotiations will begin in 90 days. The Canadian government must now negotiate and resolve all the hot button issues with our American and Mexican friends—in the midst of a highly charged political environment. How will it play out?
For the next 90 days, every special interest and aggrieved Wisconsin dairy producer will have a chance to provide input during the consultation period under Trade Promotion Authority. Then, whatever new agreement is negotiated must pass the House and the Senate. All three governments want NAFTA 2.0 wrapped up ASAP. Canada wants to end the uncertainty that is hurting investment, and for our partners, it is even more urgent.
Mexico’s presidential election is set for July 2018 and will be in full election season by the early spring. Polls show the current leader is Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a fiery left-wing nationalist who filed a human rights complaint against Mr. Trump and his plans for the border wall. He calls it embarrassing to see the current Mexican government prostrate before Trump. Mexico’s government would dearly love to conclude the NAFTA well before the election.
Similarly, U.S. mid-term elections will be held on November 6, 2018, and Republicans need to show progress on trade. The likelihood of NAFTA passing Congress drops off significantly after the mid-terms.
Gallup points out that when the U.S. President has an approval rating below 50%, his party loses an average of 36 seats during mid-term elections. President Trump’s approval rating is well south of 50%, in the high-30s. If the administration remains mired in scandals, special counsels and the Russian Connection, the Republican house is likely to lose its 31-seat majority. Would a newly-elected Democratic house be eager to pass Mr. Trump’s NAFTA?
No way. Is it even possible to renegotiate NAFTA before the deadlines? The original Canada-U.S. FTA took 18 months (May 1986 to Oct 4 1987), and our governments at the time were the closest of friends.
So it’s possible but very unlikely because of the politics. We often hear from Americans that Canada is not the main target of U.S. trade ire. Canada just needs to give the Trump administration a PR win, which it defines as a big give on supply management and softwood lumber, then it can have whatever it wants— regulatory cooperation, movement of people, maybe even an exemption from Buy American.
But the politics are awful because Mr. Trump’s bullying, blustering threats have made it impossible for Mr. Trudeau or Mr. Pena Nieto to agree to concessions without appearing weak. Their supporters despise Mr. Trump and would be furious. And even if it wasn’t politically poisonous, why should we make concessions for another country’s domestic politics?
There may be another way. The USTR referred to NAFTA modernization as opposed to renegotiation. In the past, NAFTA has been amended extensively without going back to Congress. We could add a chapter on ecommerce, fix the rules of origin and sign a bunch of side letters that could give the Americans the win they need. Let’s hope they take what they can get. Otherwise, NAFTA 2.0 is doomed.
Exiting Europe and Terminating NAFTA – Have our Trading Partners Lost it??
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
From Europe to the U.S.A., our largest trading partners are burning up with anti-trade fever. Is it a short-term flu of harmless populism or the most destructive strains of anti-globalization since the 1930’s?
Last week the Trump Administration leaked a draft executive order to withdraw the U.S. from NAFTA. “I was all set to terminate,” Trump told the Washington Post “I looked forward to terminating. I was going to do it.” What changed his mind?
He backed down after an uproar from U.S. business groups, ferocious blowback from Congress (Senator John McCain said it would be a “disaster”), and calls from the leaders of Canada and Mexico. Apparently the decisive factor was a map of the United States showing the areas that would be hardest hit from cancelling NAFTA and highlighting that many of those counties, particularly in agriculture and manufacturing had voted Trump last November. The blustery threat and same-day retraction inflamed public opinion in Canada and Mexico, so that it will be even harder for those governments to make concessions to the U.S. What could be nuttier?
Frexit. If France elects a President dedicated to exiting the European Union and abandoning the Euro, it would be much worse than Brexit, perhaps leading to a break-up of the EU. Should we be worried?
We will find out on May 7th when the people of France vote in the second round of the Presidential election. The parallels with the U.S. are striking – Marine Le Pen presents herself as a champion of the oppressed working class, les oubliés (“the forgotten”) and she promises to stop immigration, withdraw from the EU, and impose tariffs to protect French business. Her opponent, Mr. Macron is in the centrist Hillary position with somewhat vague promises that are proEU and include investments in training, along with more flexibility and lower taxes for French business. Mr. Macron has a massive lead in the polls, but analysts point to severe trauma in the French political system. From the Euro crisis and bank bailouts, to an influx of migrants, economic stagnation, and terrorist attacks, the French have never been more disenchanted with their elites. In fact, both of the major parties (the equivalents of the Liberals and Conservatives) were eliminated in the first round.
There’s been much talk about a world-wide trend of government elites losing to anti-trade populists, but don’t count on a big win for Madame Trump. Extremist candidates were defeated in the Netherlands and Austria, because of concern about the economic consequences and also because messages of openness do resonate. Polls show that significant numbers of Trump voters and Brexiteers are experiencing regret.
Personally, I think Ms. Le Pen has pushed her luck too far with a promise to exit the Euro. This means that all financial assets, debts and pensions would have to be converted from Euros to some new currency to be introduced by Ms. Le Pen. Hear that, French seniors? Your life savings could be devalued and switched into new Francs from the Front National. Good luck.
That’s the point of Brexit, Frexit, threats to withdraw from the EU/NAFTA and trade wars generally. It’s lots of fun to bluster and bash trade, but there are real consequences and real job losses. Sometimes we only see the benefits of free trade when someone threatens to take it away. So let’s hope the French come to the same conclusion as so many Dutch, Austrians, remorseful Brits and American businesses to embrace openness. Because despite all the uncertainty, faster growth in global trade is just around the corner.