The Canadian government produced a paper shortly after Donald Trump's election outlining in broad strokes how the incoming U.S. president could have pursued a quick, substantive, and successful renegotiation of NAFTA.

The paper was produced late last year and provides a glimpse at a now-hypothetical alternate reality where the new administration might have opted for a renegotiation by executive order, rather than the current legislative process.

It lists different areas where changes might have been achieved by executive actions: auto parts rules of origin, professional work visas, intellectual property protections, digital commerce, procurement, state-owned enterprises, and interpretations of dispute-settlement cases.

It was produced at the request of senior political officials, who in initial conversations with top-ranking members of the incoming Trump administration heard some suggest a preference for quick action that bypassed the complex legislative process.

"It never got very far," one Canadian official said.

But the resulting research, obtained by The Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act, offers a peek down a road not travelled. Gathered by departmental bureaucrats, it was signed by deputy trade minister Tim Sargent and date-stamped Dec. 30, 2016.

Sargent's 13-page response examines the procedural differences between legislated and non-legislated changes to NAFTA in all three countries, with half of the document specifically looking at non-legislated changes in the U.S.

It begins: "The explanation below provides a preliminary assessment of actions that could possibly be taken to supplement or amend the NAFTA in a reasonably quick manner that also would not require Congress to act."

It cites three ways to change a trade deal without congressional votes:

  • Amendments to annexes and tariff schedules
  • Country-to-country agreements that require no legislation
  • Clarifying statements

It offers examples of how these three measures could achieve changes in some key areas now central to the negotiations.

But even those supposedly simpler fixes carried potential trouble.

There are still competing visions months later on how to handle auto rules, procurement, dispute-resolution, and professional visas, with no resolution yet in sight, and warnings that the talks could fall apart.

A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says a quick fix was never within reach.

"In trade negotiations there is no such thing as a quick win," Alex Lawrence says.

"Modern negotiations are complex, and require time and hard work."

He says this document was simply research that flowed from the work done since the summer of 2016, when, in the midst of the U.S. election, his minister asked for a wide-ranging review of possible procedural outcomes for NAFTA.

The Canadian official agreed that an insta-negotiation was always a longshot. For example, even one of the people in Trumpworld who supported the idea of a speedy process, Peter Navarro, is a well-known trade hawk who also favours an aggressive U.S. posture.