Round Six

Round seven of NAFTA renegotiation creates room for optimism

  • Corwyn Friesen, mySteinbach
  • Posted on 01/30/2018 at 9:31 am

The Vice President of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute says the fact that the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement will continue is cause for renewed optimism.

With round six of the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement having concluded in Montreal negotiators are now preparing for round 7 next month in Mexico.

Colin Robertson, Vice President and a Fellow of Canadian Global Affairs Institute. says what is significant coming out of the Montreal Round is that they’re still standing and there will still be negotiations.

There was much concern going into this round that because we were going to taken on those provision relating to importantly dispute settlement, government procurement, rules of origin as it relates to autos, the sunset clause so called, if we were not able to make progress then President Trump or United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer might pull the plug.

The fact is we’re still negotiating and there’s going to be another round, this is all good news. I would say that going into this round there was fair bit of pessimism about whether this might be the end. But in fact we’re still standing and going forward.

One of the more significant things was that, in Montreal ten members of Congress led by the Chair of the Trade Committee within the House of Representatives was present and they acted, I think, as a kind of a positive force saying we who represent our constituents would like to see the NAFTA reformed but we would like to see the NAFTA continue.

~ Colin Robertson, Canadian Global Affairs Institute

Robertson notes last week President Trump was in Davos, Switzerland where he delivered, by Trump standards, a fairly moderate speech where he stated, “Yes, America first but not America alone” and he made no reference to the North American Free Trade Agreement. Round seven of the NAFTA renegotiation is set for late next month in Mexico before heading back to Washington in March for what is currently scheduled as the final round of negotiations.

Round 7 of NAFTA Renegotiation Creates Room for Optimism
Colin Robertson – Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Farmscape for January 30, 2018

The Vice President of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute says the fact that the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement will continue is cause for renewed optimism.
With Round 6 of the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement having concluded in Montreal negotiators are now preparing for round 7 next month in Mexico.
Colin Robertson, Vice President and a Fellow of Canadian Global Affairs Institute. says what is significant coming out of the Montreal Round is that they’re still standing and there will still be negotiations.

Clip-Colin Robertson-Canadian Global Affairs Institute:
There was much concern going into this round that because we were going to taken on those provision relating to importantly dispute settlement, government procurement, rules of origin as it relates to autos, the sunset clause so called, if we were not able to make progress then President Trump or United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer might pull the plug.
The fact is we’re still negotiating and there’s going to be another round, this is all good news.
I would say that going into this round there was fair bit of pessimism about whether this might be the end.
But in fact we’re still standing and going forward.
One of the more significant things was that, in Montreal ten members of Congress led by the Chair of the Trade Committee within the House of Representatives was present and they acted, I think, as a kind of a positive force saying we who represent our constituents would like to see the NAFTA reformed but we would like to see the NAFTA continue.

Robertson notes last week President Trump was in Davos, Switzerland where he delivered, by Trump standards, a fairly moderate speech where he stated, “Yes, America first but not America alone” and he made no reference to the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Round 7 of the NAFTA renegotiation is set for late next month in Mexico before heading back to Washington in March for what is currently scheduled as the final round of negotiations.
For Farmscape.Ca, I’m Bruce Cochrane.

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NAFTA: Round Six

Canada faces angry Americans in pivotal sixth round of NAFTA talks

The Canadian Press
January 21, 2018

Canada will be hosting an annoyed and angry United States as the sixth round of talks in the North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiation unfold over the coming week.

The Trump administration is making known its displeasure about Canada’s contributions to date and demanding progress over the marathon 10-day session.

Multiple sources aware of the U.S. administration’s views say the acrimony has a variety of causes, including Canada’s recent decision to file a sweeping complaint about U.S. trade practices at the World Trade Organization and its pursuit of a progressive trade agenda that includes Indigenous and labour provisions.

The rhetoric around its implacable rejection of the most controversial U.S. positions — raising continental content provisions on automobiles, scrapping a dispute resolution mechanism, limiting Canadian access to U.S. procurement, and instituting a five-year sunset clause — as well as bitterness over apparent leaks are all fuelling the U.S. animosity towards Canada, say sources.

Sources familiar with the Canadian position dismiss all that and say the tone at the negotiating table is professional and cordial, and that Canada is prepared to table counter-proposals in order to make progress.

They say Canadian negotiators are making constructive proposals to find common ground with the Americans on what some have called poison pills designed to kill the deal.

Indeed, Canada, the U.S. and Mexico are showing signs they all want to see tangible progress in this round in order keep the negotiations on track, and discourage U.S. President Donald Trump from announcing his intent to withdraw from NAFTA.

It will be another week before Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, American counterpart Robert Lighthizer and Mexico’s Ildefonso Guajardo arrive in Montreal on Jan. 29 to close the extended round that gets underway earlier than planned on Sunday.

The way some see it, Lighthizer is in no hurry to come back to Canada.

“The feeling of ill will between Bob Lighthizer’s office and the Canadians — I don’t think you can underestimate it,” said Sarah Goldfeder, a former U.S. diplomat who now represents American clients in an Ottawa consultancy.

“He’s extremely frustrated with China and Canada,” added Goldfeder.

“Those are the two countries he thinks are being most unfair to the United States … Those are the ones taking up a good chunk of his time, and not in positive ways.”

Goldfeder noted that when Freeland went to Washington two weeks ago she met Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and members of Congress — but not Lighthizer.

When Guajardo visited later in the month, Lighthizer’s door was open to him, she said.

Colin Robertson, a retired diplomat with extensive experience in the U.S., said the body language between Lighthizer and Freeland is “terrible,” which is telling.

“He’s a bully and she gets under his skin,” said Robertson. “She and Guajardo are amigos. No one would say that about Freeland and Lighthizer.”

Canadian officials say Freeland and Lighthizer intend to meet this week while the two are in Davos, Switzerland for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

Lighthizer isn’t willing to blow up NAFTA over the WTO challenge, but Canada should brace for some bilateral retaliation. Meanwhile, his office isn’t interested in the Canadian progressive trade agenda — entrenching Indigenous, gender and workers’ rights issues in the pact — because it has the whiff of Canada dictating social policy to the U.S., Goldfeder said.

Lori Wallach, the director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, a group normally at odds with the Republicans, was also critical of the Canadian posture.

“Canada is 100 per cent not engaged. Mexico started engaging in the last month or so,” said Wallach, who knows Lighthizer.

”Probably after the Montreal round, that increases the prospect that there could be a notice of withdrawal.”

Ottawa is defensive. The characterization of Canada as obstructionist is nonsense, and the product of strategic leaking of information, according to another official familiar with the content of talks, and who agreed to speak anonymously citing the sensitivity of the ongoing negotiations.

The official said Canadian and American negotiators, as well as their Mexican counterparts, know each other well and are working methodically in the 30 separate negotiating rooms to make incremental progress.

The official pointed to Freeland’s Jan. 11 comments at the Liberal cabinet retreat in London, Ont. as evidence Canada is doing some “creative thinking” about how to deal with “unconventional” U.S. proposals.

The complaints about Canada’s progressive trade agenda are also a bit rich, the official said, because the real obstacles are more fundamental — the American poison pill proposals that wouldn’t fly in any trade negotiation.

In particular, the official cited the U.S. proposal to ditch the dispute resolution mechanism, saying Americans remember full well that former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney considered that idea a deal breaker during the original Canada-U.S. free trade talks in 1988.

Freeland told CTV’s Question Period on Sunday that the progressive chapters on labour, gender, environment and Indigenous issues are not a problem. She said the Indigenous chapter would be discussed for the first time in Montreal.

Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde said it’s about time — he has pushed Freeland hard on the issue in recent months as part of her NAFTA advisory committee. Bellegarde told The Canadian Press he hopes the Americans and Mexicans support a chapter affirming Indigenous Peoples’ inclusion in the economy.

“Canada is supporting that,” he said.

“Tuesday will be the first formal response by U.S.A., Mexico to that new chapter, and so it’s very important.”

Today’s NAFTA talks are unusual because Canada is being told it needs to give up benefits or lose access to its fundamental trading partner, said Eric Miller, head of the Rideau Potomac Strategy Group in Washington.

“Canada’s economic livelihood is on the line,” said Miller, a former Canadian official who worked on the auto bailout.

“One should expect Canada to be very focused on it, and to react very strongly.”

Mike Blanchfield and Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press

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Make or Break for NAFTA

News Analysis: Make or break for NAFTA at next week’s talks in Canada

Source: Xinhua| 2018-01-20 06:34:12|Editor: yan

by Christopher Guly

OTTAWA, Jan. 19 (Xinhua) — The Canadian Chamber of Commerce is suggesting the more than 200,000 companies in its network renew any permits required to do business in the United States sooner than later in case U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration scraps the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Canada, the United States and Mexico.

“We all live in hope that common sense will prevail at the end of the day,” chamber president and chief executive officer Perrin Beatty, a former Canadian cabinet minister, said in an interview with Xinhua Friday.

“However, we’re dealing with an administration that is very nativist and that is talking about putting impediments in the way of trade, which is not what we’re doing in Canada. We see engaging American businesses as a positive thing.”

Next Tuesday, American, Canadian and Mexican trade officials will convene in Montreal to begin the sixth round of talks to renegotiate NAFTA – a deal that Trump has opposed since his campaign for the presidency and which on Thursday he described as “a bad joke” on Twitter.

Retired Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson remains uncertain about the future of NAFTA, which he helped draft.

“If we were dealing with any other administration, I would say yes we would solve the differences. But because of Donald Trump, I don’t know. On a daily basis, you wonder where he is coming from,” said Robertson.

He said the U.S. president has recently sent mixed signals regarding Mexico, where he told the Wall Street Journal that he would be “flexible” on his threat to withdraw from NAFTA in light of this year’s Mexican presidential election, yet also said that Mexico would pay for his much-promised U.S.-Mexico border wall “indirectly” through changes to the trilateral trade pact.

Beatty said that during negotiations for the 1988 bilateral trade deal between Canada and the United States that preceded NAFTA, the dynamics that played out between Ottawa and Washington, D.C. were “quite different” of what they are now between both capital cities.

He said there was “a very close personal” friendship between U.S. President Ronald Reagan, a Republican like Trump, and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, a conservative in whose cabinet Beatty served at the time as defense minister.

“Without that relationship, the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement wouldn’t have been possible because there were so many vested interests that worked against trying to take down barriers and open up trade,” Beatty explained.

“In this case, we have an existing agreement that by any empirical standard has been very beneficial to all three countries. Logic would say you need a compelling reason not to continue with it. Yet what we’re dealing with here is a politically and ideologically driven approach to trade that often ignores the facts.”

Robertson, an Ottawa-based vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, a foreign policy think-tank headquartered in the western Canadian city of Calgary, noted that Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be in Davos, Switzerland next week attending the World Economic Forum where NAFTA will likely be raised in any conversations between both leaders.

But ultimately the hard work will occur at the negotiating tables, and Robertson believes there are three possible outcomes to next week’s talks in Montreal, which have been extended by one day to Jan. 29.

Either a deal will be reached and sent to the U.S. Congress for approval; or negotiations will be suspended at the end of March following their eighth round in Washington, and moved to technical discussions without ministerial meetings until 2019 after the Mexican presidential inauguration on Dec. 1; or Trump rescinds the agreement and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer “will blame Canada and Mexico for failing to show a willingness to compromise,” according to Robertson.

The latter scenario is plausible since neither Canada nor Mexico is willing to budge in their insistence that a NAFTA provision that allows for bi-national panels to review anti-dumping and countervailing duties remain. Trump’s administration wants that dispute-resolution mechanism dropped and have U.S. courts as the final arbiter in challenges to American

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Poison Pills and Montreal Round

Poison pills and protectionism:

negotiators still face long list of

issues in next NAFTA round

 

As negotiators head to Montreal next week for the sixth round
of negotiations,
here’s an overview
of the issues in play.

BY SAMANTHA WRIGHT ALLEN

Last week, trade observers could be forgiven for feeling whiplash after reports swung from Canadian advisers expecting an imminent United States withdraw- al from NAFTA to U.S. President Donald Trump musing negotia- tions could continue past Mexico’s July presidential election.

The fifth round of negotia- tions in November was supposed to be a ministerial meeting, but was a dialled back to technical discussions after an acrimonious fourth round saw the Americans present several non-starters from the Canadian perspective—what Canada’s chief negotiator Steve Verheul told Parliamentarians last month were“extreme proposals.”

While there is“emerging agreement”on the less controver- sial ideas, like updating NAFTA for the digital age, the status of five issues commonly referred to as“poison pills”remain anyone’s guess, said John Weekes, Can- ada’s NAFTA negotiator from 1991 to 1994, who currently sits on a government advisory panel alongside other trade experts.

“This is seen as a bit of a make- or-break session,”said Mr.Weekes, noting Canada’s initial negotiating position appeared to be that the poi- son pills were so unacceptable, they weren’t prepared to engage.

Here is a list of the trade is- sues still in play:

The poison pills

Autos, rules of origin

The America First approach of the U.S. administration is perhaps most apparent in its fourth-round demand that 50 per cent of con- tent in vehicles be U.S. based in order to cross borders tariff-free. It also raises the NAFTA-country content to 85 per cent from the current 62.5 percentage require- ment in vehicles travelling duty- free between the three partners.

Before a House committee in the fall, Mr.Verheul told members the plan is“wholly unworkable.” The proposal has also been re- jected by Mexico and panned by that country’s auto lobby.

Insiders say Canadian indus- try—especially big auto and big la-

bour—are in line with the govern- ment, pushing against the U.S. ask. Unifor president Jerry Dias said agreeing would be the “death knell of so many different industries” and that on NAFTA content, Canada could live with 75 per cent but will “never agree” to half American.

But Mr. Weekes said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Canada counter with“practical changes”to rules of origin given the tracing list cov-
ers components that are no longer found in cars and fails to cover items invented in the last two de- cades. The Globe and Mail reported last week Canada’s negotiating team is working on a proposal
to increase the amount of North American-made content to address the contentious American ask.

The auto trade is probably the best example of North America making things together, said for- mer diplomat Colin Robertson in a Canadian Global Affairs Institute primer prepared for the Montreal round, because “building auto parts and components … rely on supply chains that crisscross the borders.”

For example, Ontario-based Magna employs 62,000 Ameri- cans, 22,000 Mexicans—far more than the 20,000 Canadians.The CEO has dubbed the proposal
a “lose-lose-lose”situation for North American car companies.

Supply management

Canada’s supply management system has been a no-go zone in trade agreements, but the NAFTA negotiations nevertheless squarely centred the hot-button issue. For decades Canada’s protectionist approach has set quotas and prices for local farmers, controlling the supply of milk, eggs and meat from turkeys and chickens. It tacks a 270 per cent duty on imports out- side of set amounts, an approach Mr. Trump has targeted as “very unfair.” Under his hand, American negotiators have called on Canada to eliminate those tariffs and the controlled flow of goods.

Mr.Trudeau’s key cabinet offi- cials on the file—Agriculture Minis- ter Lawrence MacAulay (Cardigan,

Steve Verheul, chief negotiator for NAFTA with colleague Dany Carriere appeared before the

House Standing Committee on International Trade in December, updating Parliamentarians on several proposals he considered ‘unworkable.’

The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

P.E.I.) and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland—have held firm, with the Ms. Freeland (University- Rosedale, Ont.) telling a committee when negotiations launched last summer, Canada is“fully commit- ted”to saving supply management, making it part of her first speech on Canada’s NAFTA objectives.

Canada faced some of the tough- est farm lobbies in Europe, yet still emerged with both the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and
the supply management intact, noted Earnscliffe Strategy Group principal Paul Moen, a former Liberal trade adviser. There was some movement, however, with an increase of 16,000 tonnes of duty- free fine cheeses and 1,700 duty- free tonnes of cheese marked for industrial food processing cheese, so observers say something similar could be on the table with NAFTA, but only in the context of toned- down expectations from the U.S. And, if any further quota erosion is offered in NAFTA, Mr. Moen said to expect an assistance package (like the Conservatives offered to coun-

Canada’s agriculture lobby is actively pushing Canada to hold its ground, with groups like the Dairy Farmers of Canada and Chicken Farmers of Canada regu- larly in the mix. Canada’s chief agricultural negotiator Frédéric Seppey is granting regular meet- ings, with 181 communication reports filed to his name with the lobbying commissioner’s office over the last year, compared to 184 for Mr.Verheul.

Sunset clause

An automatic NAFTA five-year renewal by positive agreement from the member countries—or a sunset clause—has been panned by Mexico, Canada and industry stake- holders for the uncertainty it would create for cross-border business.

Mr.Verheul in December said the U.S. proposal is“a rather large concern”and the three“can’t have an effective agreement”if it could expire, noting that businesses need a“fairly long horizon”to plan their investments.

“[A sunset clause is] going to put a significant chill on invest- ment, on planning, and on the strength of the agreement.”

Mr. Weekes said there could
be a way to engage with the proposal without ever consider- ing it as an option. Canada could counter with a softer option that encourages ongoing reviews to update the deal, investigate how it functions—which he thought the countries should have done more following the first NAFTA.

“Part of the reason we got to this point was political neglect, and particularly in the United States, and then it became fash- ionable to badmouth NAFTA when you were running for an election. It’s not surprising that a strong constituency developed

at the grassroots level,”said Mr. Weekes, noting it wasn’t just Mr. Trump who would talk down NAFTA; both former president Barack Obama and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton took some issue with the agreement.

“They all campaigned on the need to change or reform or get rid of it.” He said he believes the coun-

tries should have been doing“a lot more”over the last two decades and that committees were origi- nally set up with that in mind.

“I thought [review] would hap- pen but it hasn’t really happened,” he said.“We don’t want a sunset clause but I think it would make a lot of sense to have regular politi- cal supervision to make sure the three countries are living up to their obligations.”

Dispute settlement

Also in dispute is NAFTA’s approach to dispute resolution, with Mr.Trump taking aim at the agreement’s approach, preferring all matters be dealt with by the U.S. trade remedy system.

Chapter 19, which deals with countervailing duties and anti- dumping, is“vital to Canada and Mexico,”said Mr. Robertson be- cause there would be no recourse otherwise.

“If we don’t get that, then we’re simply at the mercy of the American trade remedy system which we think is unfair.” Mr.Verheul told the House International Trade Committee in December the chapter has been “an effective instrument” for Can- ada, which has taken up 20 cases over the years leading to the U.S. changing its practices 13 times.

But several suggested it’s a phil- osophical debate at heart, and that Congress should reign supreme.

“The whole notion of a tribu- nal that’s non-American, [that would] judge the U.S. is complete- ly inconsistent to the Trumpian view,”said Mr. Moen.

Ms. Freeland said in August Canada wants to reform the Investor-State Dispute Settlement process, or Chapter 11, which protects Canada’s ability to pass public interest regulations with- out the fear of corporate legal action. Canada is going after a CETA model where set judges adjudicate matters rather than ad- hoc appointees.

It’s seen the most pushback from American companies and Canada is already a target, facing more Chapter 11 lawsuits than any other country, according to a Globe and Mail report.

During the first NAFTA nego- tiations, Chapter 19 was almost a deal breaker, and insiders say it’s still a red line Canadian negotia- tors won’t cross.

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Trump Trudeau and NAFTA

After months of trying to get Trump on side, Canada ‘drops the gloves’ by filing trade complaint – but will the decision merely inflame economic tensions?

Canadian officials portrayed the filing as a clear message that Canada was standing up for its industries and workers.

The charm offensive was already under way before Donald Trump moved into the White House. By inauguration, Justin Trudeau’s top advisers had fostered close contacts with Trump’s inner circle, setting the stage for a Washington visit peppered with smiles, handshakes and photo ops.

But this week relations between Canada and the US seemingly struck a different note, as news broke that Ottawa had launched an all-out trade war against Washington.

In a wide-ranging complaint, filed in December and made public on Wednesday by the World Trade Organization, Canada has taken aim at Washington’s use of anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties. The complaint listed nearly 200 cases spanning two decades, alleging wrongdoing not only against Canada but dozens of other countries, such as Brazil, China and India.

Canadian officials portrayed the filing as a clear message that Canada was standing up for its industries and workers. “When people see that you’re firm, you get respect,” François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s international trade minister told reporters.

Looming over Ottawa message are the high stakes renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Amid Trump’s repeated threats to pull out of the decades-old pact, the Canadian government has been scrambling to hammer out a reasonable update that would safeguard the roughly 2.5m Canadian jobs and 75% of Canadian exports tied to the pact.

Some pointed to the tough talk as a plan B by the Trudeau government. “By dropping the gloves in such a public way, Canada is acknowledging that playing nice with Mr Trump on trades has failed miserably,” noted a columnist for the Globe and Mail.

Whether the approach had yielded results was a matter of debate: while much of Trump’s rhetoric has been aimed at Mexico, his initial actions were aimed at Canada.

A series of aggressive trade actions saw steep tariffs and duties levied on Canadian softwood lumber, Bombardier CSeries aircraft and, just this week, newsprint.

Trump paired these with a broad attack. “We can’t let Canada or anybody else take advantage and do what they did to our workers and to our farmers,” he told reporters in April.

The WTO complaint suggests the Trudeau government has evolved in its approach , said John Weekes, Canada’s former WTO ambassador and chief Nafta negotiator. “This is really about sending a signal to the Americans that we’re prepared to be tough.”

The timing of this signal suggests the Canadian government sees the sixth round of Nafta negotiations – slated to begin later this month in Montreal – as a vital opportunity to determine whether the US is willing to find common ground on the thorny issues such as the rules governing the auto industry and trade dispute mechanisms, said Weekes.

On Wednesday US trade representative Robert Lighthizer made clear his belief that Canada’s WTO complaint would simply exacerbate trade tensions.

“Canada’s new request for consultations at the WTO is a broad and ill-advised attack on the US trade remedies system,” Lighthizer said in a statement. “Canada’s claims are unfounded and could only lower US confidence that Canada is committed to mutually beneficial trade.”

But in the transcript of an interview with the Wall Street Journal published Thursday, Trump struck a more upbeat tone, saying that there was a chance of making a reasonable deal, and hinting his administration would be open to extending the timeline of Nafta talks.

This week saw headlines suggesting that Canada is readying for Trump’s imminent withdrawal from Nafta, but Canadian officials have long been prepared for the possibility, said Colin Robertson of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Canada has shown no sign of slowing its outreach plan that has sent representatives from the Canadian government and businesses on hundreds of trips across the US to talk up trade with Canada.

Relations between Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s foreign minister and Rex Tillerson remain close, and other channels of communication remain open.

“I think that conversations are still taking place between the prime minister and Mr Trump,” he said.

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Iran and Diplomatic Relations

Iranian-Canadian Liberal MP expresses concern about Iranian protests but defers on re-establishing diplomatic ties

‘It’s important going forward, that all governments are in solidarity with the Iranians, that we judge the Iranian government not by their words but by their actions,’ says Liberal MP Ali Ehsassi.

Protests against the Iranian government in Kermanshah, Iran, on Dec. 29. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia CommonsBy JOLSON LIM

PUBLISHED :Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018 3:50 PM

Iranian-Canadian rookie Liberal MP Ali Ehassi says the heavy-handed response to massive street protests against the government in Iran is “heart-wrenching” to watch, though remained tight-lipped on whether he continues to support efforts by the Trudeau government to reopen diplomatic ties with the country.

In an interview, Mr. Ehsassi (Willowdale, Ont.) told The Hill Times he’s closely following the situation in Iran, and believes that the interests and narratives propagated by the Iranian regime are different from those of the Iranian people.

“It’s important going forward, that all governments are in solidarity with the Iranians, that we judge the Iranian government not by their words but by their actions,” he said, noting that since the protests began, he has spoken to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.) and members of the Iranian-Canadian community about the ongoing unrest.

Asked whether he supports his party’s view that Canada should re-establish formal diplomatic ties with Iran, Mr. Ehsassi said only that it’s “important” to reach out to members of the Iranian community in Canada.

“I think it’s important that Global Affairs Canada consults closely our allies around the world. I think it’s important to not jump to any conclusions prematurely,” he said, calling the protests against the Iranian government as “one of those moments where we may have to take stock of things.”

Mr. Ehsassi lived in Iran for five years as a child and comes from a family of Iranian diplomats and statesmen associated with Pahlavi dynasty. Following the 1979 Iranian revolution that toppled the Pahlavi dynasty and brought to power a theocratic republic, his parents left the country and settled in Canada.

The first-term MP attended a rally in Toronto on Jan. 7 expressing solidarity with the protesters and their demands that also brought out Liberal MP Michael Levitt (York Centre, Ont.) and Conservative MP Peter Kent (Thornhill, Ont.). The protests, which began late last year, have seen thousands of Iranians take to the street to express anger with deteriorating economic conditions and government restrictions against public expression.

The Iranian government has responded by detaining demonstrators, censoring media coverage, and limiting access to social media channels that could potentially be used to help organize rallies, drawing stern criticism from the West. At least 21 people are believed to have died in the protests, while about 3,700 demonstrators have been detained, according to media reports.

Amid the protests, fellow Iranian-Canadian Liberal MP Mr. Jowhari (Richmond Hill, Ont.) drew criticism for posting a photo last month on Twitter of a statement from Ms. Freeland expressing hope that the protesters would be able to freely air their grievances with “support of its elected government.”

Conservative MP and party foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole (Durham, Ont.) called Mr. Jowhari’s actions “inappropriate,” and said the tweet was “a preposterous presentation.”

When reached, the office of Ms. Jowhari said he was unavailable for an interview and did not respond to requests for an email statement. The rookie MP represents a suburban Toronto riding that has the highest percentage of Iranians-Canadians.

It’s not the first time Mr. Jowhari has weathered allegations of supporting the interests of the Iranian regime.

He attracted criticism for meeting last year with an Iranian parliamentary delegation at his constituency office without the involvement of Global Affairs Canada. The meeting was purportedly about forming a Canada-Iran parliamentary friendship group, according to reporting by a Richmond Hill newspaper.

He was also slammed for allegedly stacking a meeting with then-Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion and members of the Iranian-Canadian community with delegates supportive of Canada restoring diplomatic ties with the country, rather than those critical of the existing regime.

“I really worry when it appears that there’s positions taken with respect to foreign countries that aren’t within our national interest, that are being advanced by our MP, that’s inappropriate and the prime minister should call him on the carpet, I think, to see where his loyalty lies,” Mr. O’Toole told The Hill Times.

“There’s now been enough things that I’ve heard over the last year or so, mainly from Iranian-Canadian community that causes a lot of MPs’ concern.”

Iranian Canadian Congress (ICC) president Bijan Ahmadi defended Mr. Jowhari, arguing the tweet was taken “out of context.”

He told The Hill Times that recent media coverage has unfairly portrayed Iranian-Canadians as a “monolithic community,” and claimed there haven’t been enough pro-diplomacy viewpoints in the public debate.

Ever since Mr. Jowhari began pushing for re-establishing diplomatic ties after he was elected in 2015, he started “getting these attacks from certain political groups, especially groups whose sole agenda is to isolate the Iranian government,” according to Mr. Ahmadi.

Mr. Ehsassi said he was out of the country during the holidays when Mr. Jowhari’s posted his tweet and couldn’t “shed light on what exactly he meant by his statement,” adding that he hasn’t spoken to him.

Asked about whether he and Mr. Jowhari had differences in opinion, Mr. Ehsassi said “I’m truly not aware of any individual who has identical views with me on any given issue. We all have different perspectives on issues.”

He wouldn’t say whether he believed criticisms hurled at Mr. Jowhari are unfair.

“What I can say, as an MP, I think each and every single one of us is supposed to try the best to their ability to talk to our constituents. I never try to pass my own judgement onto others. Our job is to advocate on behalf of our constituents,” he said.

Canadian government denies Iranian media report hinting at new meetings

Last month, Iranian media quoted a senior government official saying that the country would be sending a delegation “at the directorate general level” to Canada in the new year.

However, Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Brittany Venhola-Fletcher told The Hill Times there are no plans for any future meetings with Canadian and Iranian officials in Canada.

“There are ongoing discussions, but no timeline has been established and no meetings have been confirmed. Discussions have taken place among officials and at the ministerial level. Minister Freeland has spoken with Foreign Minister Zarif, including at the UN General Assembly in New York,” she explained.

She also stated that there had been no meetings to discuss re-establishing diplomatic ties ever held in Canada.

In October and May, Canadian officials travelled to Tehran to hold talks with the Iranian government. However, the Canadian government cautioned that many issues needed to be addressed before Canada could open an mission in the Persian country.

Five rounds of talks have already been held between the two countries at the expert level, Mr. Keshavarzzadeh, the general director of American affairs in the country’s foreign ministry, told Mehr news agency on Dec. 16, though Global Affairs Canada has not confirmed that.

When asked about the effect of the protests on negotiations, Ms. Venhola-Fletche referred to Mr. Freeland’s previous statement calling direct engagement with the Iranian regime as the “most effective tool to hold Iran to account,” though expressing concern about the government’s crackdown of freedom of expression and support of known terrorist organizations.

Opponents of diplomatic engagement have decried the Iranian regime for its litany of human rights abuses, suggesting the recent unrest serving as an example of why Canada should back out of re-engagement. Supporters have argued that the Iranian-Canadians are cut off from much-needed consular services and that it’s more productive to engage with the regime diplomatically than not.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat, told The Hill Times that protests against the Iranian government wouldn’t threaten to derail the dialogue on re-establishing diplomatic ties because the government sees human rights and diplomatic re-engagement as “two separate tracks.”

“It’s consistent with the Trudeau approach to engagement and commitment to multilateralism,” he said, noting that Canada, despite applying sanctions on Russia, still has diplomatic relations with the Kremlin.

Mr. O’Toole called on Canada to reassess any decision towards re-establishing diplomatic ties, saying it would be used by the Iranian regime in “propaganda efforts” to further its interests in the Middle East.

However, Mr. Ahmadi said if there is any reassessment by Canadian officials, it would only “re-confirm that we need to be in Iran.”

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UN Vote on Jerusalem

Canada among 35 abstaining from UN vote condemning American embassy move to Jerusalem

WATCH: In an overwhelming vote, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution Thursday calling U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “null and void.”

Canada was one of 35 countries that abstained from a vote Thursday during which more than 100 members of the United Nations overwhelmingly condemned the decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

“Canada is strongly committed to the goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, including the creation of a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel. Canada’s longstanding position is that the status of Jerusalem can be resolved only as part of a general settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. This has been the policy of consecutive governments, both Liberal and Conservative,” said Adam Austen, spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

“Canada continues to support building the conditions necessary for the parties to find a peaceful solution. We are disappointed that this resolution is one sided and does not advance prospects for peace to which we aspire, which is why we will abstain on today’s vote.”

At an emergency session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, members of the international organization cast votes on a motion that represents a major global condemnation of Trump’s decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to the contested city of Jerusalem, which both Israel and the Palestinian people claim as their capital.

WATCH: Nikki Haley tells the United Nations that ‘The U.S. will remember this day’

The countries that voted with the United States against the resolution condemning its embassy move were Togo, Palau, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Honduras, Guatemala and Israel.

The full list of abstaining countries was: Antigua-Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, the Bahamas, Benin, Bhutan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cameroon, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Fiji, Haiti, Hungary, Jamaica, Kiribati, Latvia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Rwanda, the Solomon Islands, South Sudan, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda and Vanuatu.

The United Kingdom, France, Germany, Ireland, Belgium, Portugal, Spain and China all voted to condemn the move of the American embassy as part of a total of 128 countries voting in favour of the resolution.

READ MORE:Trump threatens to cut aid to UN members over Jerusalem vote

The decision by Canada to abstain was not unexpected but represents a delicate balance the Canadian government is trying to walk as it navigates between not irritating the Americans while NAFTA negotiations are ongoing and also not alienating the roughly 50 Arab states with the power to cast votes in a powerful bloc against Canada’s bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper made a point of solidifying Canadian support for Israel at the United Nations, voting in concert with the U.S. and Israel at several major votes over the years, and the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not significantly strayed from that path, often sticking with the decision to cast matching votes.

READ MORE: UN Security Council considers call for U.S. Jerusalem decision to be withdrawn

The vote on Thursday, however, is likely to draw more attention for Canada as one of the handful of abstaining countries.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, doubled down in her opening statement to the General Assembly ahead of the vote and repeated vows to yank American foreign aid from countries that vote to condemn the move.

“The decision does nothing to harm the peace process,” said Haley. “America will put our embassy in Jerusalem. that is what the American people want us to do and it is the right thing to do. No vote in the U.N. will make any difference on that.”

Several abstaining countries who spoke after the vote stressed in remarks made to the General Assembly that while they remained committed to a two-state solution with both countries able to negotiate a settlement on the Jerusalem issue, the resolution presented Thursday would not do anything to bring both parties closer to peace and warned it would only inflame tensions.

“Canada is of the view that the status of Jerusalem is part and parcel of the solution,” said Marc-André Blanchard, Canada’s permanent representative to the United Nations, in a brief statement following the vote.

“Canada calls for calm and firmly opposes the violence and targeting of civilians seen in recent weeks.”

Neither Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer nor Erin O’Toole had an immediate comment on the vote but NDP foreign affairs critic Helene Laverdiere criticized the decision by Canada to abstain, calling it “deeply disappointing.”

“Canada’s decision to abstain today, and its recent UN votes, are contrary to Canada’s own stated foreign policy on Israel/Palestine,” she said in a press release.

“At a time when Canada should be standing up for international law and promoting human rights, Canada is isolating itself.  We urge the Trudeau government to uphold their own stated values, condemn illegal settlements, and finally stand up for the rights of the Palestinian people as well as the rights of Israelis. Canada has been silent on these issues for far too long.”

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who was posted to the mission at the United Nations and the consulate general in New York, characterized the resolution itself as a game of ping-pong between Middle Eastern countries.

He also said he thinks Canada was wise to try and keep its nose out of the issue as much as possible.

“I’d say our vote was both prudent and consistent,” he told Global News. “But I’d sure bet having to make the decision was as welcome as the proverbial lump of coal at Christmas.”

 

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Trudeau’s China Trip

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s China trip may not have netted the expected free-trade talks, but Canadians should be satisfied on several fronts.

First, the institutional framework is strengthened.

Critics discount this as more bureaucratic jibber-jabber, but in China – as business has painfully learned – it’s the mandarins who make things happen. Last year the prime ministers of Canada and China initiated regular annual meetings. Now, there will be regular meetings of ministers of the environment and energy.

Second, there will be more trade.

Sales of uranium (good for Saskatchewan) and beef and pork (good for Western Canada) will be expedited. Premier Kathleen Wynne has just returned with $1.9-billion in deals that will generate an estimated 2,100 jobs in Ontario.

A crosswalk between climate and clean energy has been created. This should work to Canada’s advantage both commercially as well as in research and development, given the Chinese lead in innovation in renewable energies, especially solar.

Third, the people-to-people exchanges are significantly enhanced.

Chinese tourism – more than half a million visitors last year – has taken off. It’s growing annually at double-digits. More direct flights to Calgary and Montreal, as well as Toronto and Vancouver, are coming from 11 Chinese cities, and we are opening seven additional visa centres. During a visit to Beijing last month, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen declared we could “easily double or triple or quadruple the numbers.” China has designated Canada as the preferred travel location for 2018.

Where once it was the Japanese who skied Banff and Whistler, it will now be wealthy Chinese. Hoteliers had better be sure there is a kettle stocked with Chinese teas in every room and that their feng shui is right.

Tourism begets foreign students as well as trade and investment. China is already our largest source of foreign students, although – where we once led – in recent years Australia has done the better job of attracting Chinese students.

But even with these developments, the China relationship is always going to be tricky. Its leadership has a different conception of human rights and the rule of law. China is an authoritarian state. Authority rests with the Chinese Communist Party and its survival comes first.

When things get tough, as we saw in Tiananmen Square, the People’s Liberation Army cracks heads. Information does not flow freely and, as Facebook, Google and earlier media companies have learned, you either play by their rules or you don’t do business. That’s the way it is.

Canadians have a tendency to discount our assets when dealing with China. As Paul Evans recounts in Engaging China, that we were “somewhat independent” and could play a middle power role in bringing China in from the cold were major factors in China’s decision to accept Pierre Trudeau’s invitation to open relations with Canada in 1971.

Legitimacy still matters for China, and closer relations with Canada gives it that. Try as it might, and it did try hard, especially in the later years, the government of Stephen Harper could never really come to terms with it.

The Trudeau government doesn’t have the anti-communist ideological baggage that confounded its predecessors. Instead, its progressive values – labour, environment, gender equality, Indigenous rights – bolster Canada’s position in the Western democratic pantheon. It is a strength, even if the Chinese don’t like it. Their first instinct will be to bully us into submission.

We need to stand up for our progressive values. But they also need pragmatic application if they are to have any effect. Finding that balance is an art, not a science. In his dealings with foreign leaders, Mr. Trudeau demonstrates a high degree of emotional intelligence. He will need it when dealing with China’s leadership.

The Trudeau trip to China moved the yardsticks. Maybe no China free-trade deal now, but all in all, not a bad haul – and the promise of more to come.

When dealing with the Chinese, strategic patience counts. The Chinese measure progress in centuries rather than days or months. Nor should we discount standing firm on our progressive values. The Chinese may not like it, but they respect conviction.

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NAFTA could be dead if no major progress in early 2018, warns former Canadian trade negotiator

Source: Xinhua| 2017-11-25 07:01:37|Editor: Zhou Xin

OTTAWA, Nov. 24 (Xinhua) — The future of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) could be determined early next year when negotiators from the United States, Canada and Mexico meet in late January for a sixth round of talks to rework the tripartite trade deal, a Canadian official involved in drafting NAFTA has said.

Retired Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, who also helped negotiate the pre-NAFTA Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in the late 1980s, believes that if no significant progress is made on the most contentious issues early next year in the Canadian city of Montreal, NAFTA could be dead and its predecessor FTA could come back into force.

The fifth round of negotiations, which have concluded in Mexico City, produced no movement on such key areas of dispute as rules of origin in the automobile manufacturing industry, and raised the question of whether “the Americans are serious or are looking for an excuse to exit,” Robertson told Xinhua in an interview.

Following the end of the Mexico talks this week, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in a statement that American negotiators “have seen no evidence that Canada or Mexico are willing to seriously engage on provisions that will lead to a rebalanced agreement” and that “absent rebalancing, we will not reach a satisfactory result.”

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters here that Canada “simply cannot agree to” some “extreme proposals” from the the United States.

“Our approach is to hope for the best and prepare for the worst and Canada certainly is prepared for every eventuality,” she said.

Mexico, Canada and the United States have been renegotiating NAFTA since August, at the request of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has alleged that the 23-year-old agreement has harmed his country and has threatened to withdraw from it.

The Trump administration wants to raise the minimum threshold for autos to 85 percent North American content from 62.5 percent as well as to require half of vehicle content to be from the United States.

Canada and Mexico as well as all North American carmakers and autoworkers unions oppose both proposals.

The Americans also want to eliminate the dispute-resolution mechanism under NAFTA, which has implications for Canada regarding its ongoing cross-border conflict with Washington over Canadian softwood lumber exports to the U.S. and the Boeing-Bombardier feud that affects both countries’ aerospace sectors.

In addition, the United States seeks to have a five-year sunset clause included in NAFTA in which the trade pact could terminate if all three countries fail to renew the revised agreement after five years.

Robertson said that such a clause could discourage investment from companies that typically seek a 15-to-25-year timeframe to realize some returns.

Canada’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, its trade agreement with the European Union (EU) and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s upcoming trip to China to advance exploratory talks for a trade deal could “send a signal to the U.S. that Canada has other options” for trade agreements, said Robertson.

Should NAFTA fall apart and the Trump White House rejects the Canada-U.S. FTA, both countries would revert to most favored nation status.

Robertson said that under that basic trade arrangement, “tariffs would be applied to most things Canada sells to the U.S.” and vice versa, and it could mean that it would be cheaper for Canada to buy tariff-free goods from Europe through the free trade agreement Canada has with the EU.

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NAFTA and Softwood Lumber Chapter XIX

Stacks of lumber are pictured at NMV Lumber in Merritt, B.C., Tuesday, May 2, 2017.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canada’s decision to turn to the North American Free Trade Agreement for a solution to the latest softwood lumber dispute proves how critical the agreement’s dispute resolution mechanisms are to this country, a Canadian international trade expert said Wednesday.

Canada on Tuesday asked a review panel under Chapter 19 of NAFTA to investigate the countervailing duties imposed on Canadian softwood imports into the United States.

The U.S. argues Canada unfairly subsidizes its lumber industry, and the question for the panel will be whether the duties are legal under U.S. laws.

This is the fifth Canada-U.S. softwood lumber dispute since 1982, and the third in which Canada has sought relief under the dispute mechanisms of free trade agreements with the U.S. They have largely ruled in Canada’s favour in the past.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian trade diplomat, said Wednesday it’s no surprise Canada made the application despite political battles with the U.S. over the very existence of the Chapter 19 dispute mechanism.

“It would not be logical for us not to use it and we had to use it within a certain time frame so of course we’re going to apply it,” said Robertson.

Chapter 19 of NAFTA means Canada can get a panel made up of U.S. and Canadian trade experts to decide if the duties follow U.S. trade law, rather than going to the U.S. court system.

Robertson said trade agreements were pursued by Canada in the first place largely to create a dispute settlement mechanism “to give us some relief from unfair application – and I stress unfair – of American trade law.”

“In a psychological fashion from a Canadian perspective (this) kind of underlines why Chapter 19 is essential,” he said.

However U.S. President Donald Trump wants Chapter 19 eliminated, and he has support from many U.S. industries who feel it is unconstitutional and that the American courts are best equipped to determine whether U.S. law is being upheld.

The Canadian government has indicated eliminating Chapter 19 is a non-starter.

Robertson said the negotiations on NAFTA are largely parallel to this particular dispute, and Canada and the U.S. almost certainly knew when the last softwood agreement expired in 2015, that we’d end up back at Chapter 19 eventually.

In the past, NAFTA panels have told the U.S. its laws did not allow it to determine whether Canada’s pricing system for wood was fair using U.S. market prices, or that if there was a subsidy at play it was never as big as what the Americans tried to suggest with their duties. In 2005, a NAFTA panel unanimously agreed the U.S. industry had not been injured by Canada’s stumpage fee system.

Canada would hope to have similar findings again.

NAFTA rules require a panel decision on this complaint be made no later than the end of September 2018.

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