November 7, 2017 / 5:30 PM / in a year

HSBC's Canadian boss 'concerned' by NAFTA talks

TORONTO (Reuters) - HSBC Holdings’ (HSBA.L) Canadian chief said on Tuesday she is concerned about talks to rework the North American Free Trade Agreement and preparing for how the bank will deal with possible outcomes.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw from the NAFTA trade agreement with Canada and Mexico if he cannot rework it in favor of the United States. His negotiating team has set proposals that have alarmed their Canadian and Mexican counterparts.

Among the most divisive are plans to establish rules of origin for NAFTA goods that would set minimum levels of U.S. content for autos, a sunset clause that would terminate the trade deal if it is not renegotiated every five years, and ending the so-called Chapter 19 dispute mechanism.

“The discussions around the free trade agreement I would say right now are concerning,” HSBC Canada Chief Executive Sandra Stuart told Reuters. “We’ve done an analysis of our book. We know where we are sensitive in terms of the NAFTA agreement and customers know their sensitivities as well.”

Stuart said, however, that she expected a deal to be reached and was comfortable with the bank’s exposure to businesses that could be affected.

“We’ve thought through potential scenarios but it’s very manageable for us in terms of what we think the outcomes are going to be,” she said.

HSBC Holdings (HSBA.L), Europe’s biggest bank, has operated in Canada for 36 years and lists its Canadian business as one of its 18 priority markets across the globe. The bank has 133 branches and just under 6,000 staff in Canada, with assets worth C$93.2 billion at the end of September, making it Canada’s seventh-biggest lender.

Stuart said HSBC is looking to grow in Canada by using its global reach to provide clients with access to global markets and help facilitate cross-border trade.

“Trade is our big opportunity,” she said. “We bring something to the Canadian market that the industry doesn’t have, global connectivity. No domestic bank has our international reach and no international bank has our domestic presence.”

HSBC acted as lead arrangers this year on Maple bond issues by companies, including Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Walt Disney Co (DIS.N), taking advantage of a resurgence in the market for Canadian dollar-denominated bonds issued by foreign companies, which has been stronger than at any time since 2007.

“I don’t think it’s a one-off. I think you’ll see more come through,” Stuart said.

Reporting by Matt Scuffham; Editing by Dan Grebler

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