Canada, Mexico and NAFTA

Should Canada ditch Mexico and go it alone with U.S. on new trade agreement?

NAFTA was designed to help Mexico, but now it’s hurting Canada, argues journalist

As NAFTA talks become ever more fractious, some commentators are asking whether it’s time to disband the three-way agreement and form bilateral pacts between the countries. (Judi Bottoni/Associated Press)

Listen19:08

Canada should recognize Mexico as a “toxic” trading partner, and pull out of NAFTA in favour of a bilateral trade agreement with the U.S., says Diane Francis, editor at large with the National Post.

“Canada should look after Canada,” Francis told The Current’s Anna Maria Tremonti. “We have nothing to be sorry about.”

The U.S. announced Thursday that Canada, Mexico and the E.U. would be subject to tariffs of 25 per cent on imported steel and 10 per cent on aluminum. Ottawa responded with a promise of dollar-for-dollar tariffs on a variety of goods.

Industry insiders said the U.S. tariffs are intended as leverage over NAFTA negotiations, which stalled last month. In a tweet earlier today, U.S. President Donald Trump condemned Canadian “trade barriers.”

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

Farmers have not been doing well for 15 years. Mexico, Canada, China and others have treated them unfairly. By the time I finish trade talks, that will change. Big trade barriers against U.S. farmers, and other businesses, will finally be broken. Massive trade deficits no longer!

Francis told Tremonti that signing the trade deal with Mexico in 1994 “was a bootstrapping exercise to help the neighbour to the south get better living standards, higher wages and get their act together.”

But more than two decades later, Francis said that Mexico is worse off now than it was back then.

Those low wages are bad for Mexican workers, Francis said, but low costs also draw investors south, hurting Canada’s industrial base.

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton signs the North American Free Trade Agreement Dec. 8, 1993. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

By contrast, Francis points to the strong, “harmonious” trading relationship between Canada and the U.S.

“Bilaterally, we have so few irritants between each other,” she said.

She argued that adding Mexico to the mix and trying to “cling to a trilateral agreement” isn’t in Canada’s best interest.

Mexico is a ‘hidden success story’

Turning away from Mexico would be a strategic blunder, according to Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who helped to negotiate the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in the late ’80s, and then later NAFTA.

“[It] would put us at a disadvantage with both the United States and any effort we wanted to have to expand trading ties, especially within the Americas,” he told Tremonti.

“I think there’d be a certain temptation on the part of Latinos: If we were to throw Mexico under the bus, then they would think, ‘How reliable is this further gringo to the north?'”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico city on Oct. 12, 2017. Former diplomat Colin Robertson said that the countries had formed a strong alliance through NAFTA. (Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images)

Mexico has been a “hidden success story” of NAFTA, he said, with improvements in the democratic process and a growing middle class.

“When we went into the North American Free Trade Agreement it was about number 13 or 14 in the list of our trading partners,” said Robertson, who is now vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

“It’s now our third largest trading partner, we’ve got big investments in mining and banking and manufacturing.”

Robertson pointed to the country-of-origin labelling dispute over meat products in the late 2000s as an example of Canada and Mexico working together to win a dispute with the U.S.

“[Donald Trump’s book] The Art of the Deal is all about divide and conquer,” Robertson said, “and it would make no sense for us to separate from Mexico when together we have a much better chance of getting a good agreement.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington, where they discussed NAFTA on Oct. 11, 2017. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The elephant and the mouse

Seeing Mexico as an ally against the U.S. is a mistake, Francis argued, because Mexico and Canada represent only 7 per cent of the three countries’ combined GDP.

Comparing the U.S. and Canadian economies is like comparing an elephant and a mouse, she added — referencing Pierre Trudeau’s famous analogy from 1969.

“Now we’re aligned with another mouse, who’s toxic, and is actually kind of toxic to us.”

Ending the deal and pursuing separate agreements is the solution, she believes.

“I really think that we need to reorient ourselves, and get in the same space to a certain extent, as the Americans are, vis-a-vis Mexico,” she said.

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this page.


This segment was produced by The Current’s Idella Sturino and Pacinthe Mattar.

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NAFTA

NAFTA Renegotiation Expected to Drag Out
Colin Robertson – Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Farmscape for May 30, 2018

With the passage of an informal deadline for completing the renegotiation of the NAFTA the Vice President of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute expects the pressure for a quick conclusion of the negotiations to ease.
With a mid May deadline for concluding the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement to avoid conflicts with Mexican presidential elections and U.S. mid term elections having passed, expectations are that a final deal will be significantly delayed.
Colin Robertson, the Vice-President and a fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, expects the profile of the negotiations to shift.

Clip-Colin Robertson-Canadian Global Affairs Institute:
My sense is that the negotiations will continue but probably more at the working level.
I think it’s less likely that the ministers will be getting together with the same regularity that they have particularly in the last six weeks because we have a number of events that will intrude.
First of all the Mexican election is now in full swing.
That election takes place on July 1.
There are some 30 thousand offices from the President, a number of Governors and their Congress, both Senate and their Legislative Assembly as well as provincial legislatures and municipal and county elections.
And we have the U.S. mid-term elections in November.
What normally happens during election campaigns is that trade negotiations either take a pause or move to a technical level where there’s not a requirement for political decisions, especially when it is possible that it seems likely that there may be a change in the configuration of the government.

Robertson says, while there is a desire to keep the momentum going, the pressure for a quick deal has been lifted and the desire within Congress to take the time needed to reach a full comprehensive agreement is growing.
For Farmscape.Ca, I’m Bruce Cochrane.

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NAFTA: Canada and Mexico need to stick together

Colin Robertson, The Globe and Mail, May 23, 2018

Another NAFTA “deadline” has passed, but the negotiations carry on. And that is what really matters. Canada and Mexico need to stick together, focus on their shared objectives and bear down for what now appears will be a more reasonable negotiating tempo.

The North American free-trade agreement negotiations seem to have gone on forever but, in fact, we have only been at it for 10 months. There have been eight rounds, a December “intercessional” and, in recent weeks, a series of sessions that saw Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland shuttling back and forth for days in Washington.

 All this effort has resulted in considerable progress.

Negotiators have scoped out a framework that would include 30-plus chapters and half a dozen annexes. Mexican chief negotiator Kenneth Smith Ramos tweeted that nine chapters are now “closed”, although nothing is final until the whole deal is done. The negotiated chapters cover regulatory practices, administration, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, competition, small and medium-sized enterprises, anti-corruption, environment, energy, telecommunications and trade barriers. Sectoral annexes include chemicals and proprietary food formulas.

The U.S. side took as their starting point the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that, ironically, President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from after taking office. The Canadian and Mexican negotiators’ used the original NAFTA, arguing that if the U.S. wanted to achieve their TPP gains, they would have to negotiate it.

In recent weeks, negotiations have centred on auto-content rules. Supply chains have made car assembly the most traded commodity within North America. The U.S. wants 75 per cent North American content (it’s currently 62.5 per cent) with 30 to 40 per cent made with labour that is paid more than US$15 an hour. This would affect Mexican competitivenes; their auto workers’ wages average US$3-$4 an hour. Not surprisingly, they are loath to agree. They want a long phase-in period as well as concessions in other parts of the agreement,.

Some suggest that Canada should dump Mexico and then negotiate a bilateral auto agreement with the United States. This would be a strategic blunder. The 1965 auto pact was our first sectoral free-trade agreement and it guaranteed jobs and production in Canada. But it is just one piece in a much bigger and successful North American trading arrangement.

While trade with the United States under NAFTA has expanded threefold and the U.S. remains our preponderant trading partner, the hidden success story is the Canada-Mexico relationship. Mexico is now our third-largest trading partner. Canadians have made big investments in mining, banking and manufacturing in Mexico. And, after the U.S., Mexico is our favourite tourism destination.

During the long and ultimately successful negotiations to reopen the U.S. market to our beef exports – the country-of-origin labeling dispute – we worked in tandem with Mexico. Together, we utilized NAFTA and World Trade Organization dispute-settlement provisions. We formulated our retaliatory list together. We succeeded because we stuck together.

With the low-hanging fruit now harvested, the NAFTA negotiations are into the difficult issues. The auto-content rules are just the first. Mexican support will be vital to sustain dispute settlement and to preserve access for reciprocity in government procurement. We need to be united in pushing back on the sunset clause and preserving temporary entry provisions. And when the U.S. comes after us on supply marketing, patent protection and the threshold level for border duties, Mexican advice will be useful.

Mexico stood up for Canada when Justin Trudeau pirouetted in discussions with leaders in Da Nang, Vietnam, on what is now the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Some were ready to toss Canada under the bus. The Mexicans persuaded them to give Canada another chance.

As part of our trade diversification strategy, Canada is reaching into the Americas. We want associate membership in the Pacific Alliance (Mexico, Chile, Peru, Colombia) and Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay). Do we think that leaving Mexico in the lurch would help us in these negotiations? The 33 nations south of the Rio Grande also represent a quarter of the votes we need in our campaign for a United Nations Security Council seat.

The Trump approach is to divide and conquer. Ending our alignment with Mexico would play right into U.S. hands. There is still much more that unites Canada and Mexico and much more to be gained by working together. Let us recall Ben Franklin’s advice to those framing the U.S. Declaration of Independence: “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

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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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Crunch Time for NAFTA: A Test for the USA

The NAFTA negotiations this week in Montreal will give us a good sense of whether a new agreement is possible. Canada and Mexico are coming to the table with ideas on the “poison pills” but is the United States ready to negotiate?

The test will come on three issues:

– Can we preserve dispute settlement as a check against unfair protectionism?

– Can we find an equitable formula around trilateral content rules for cars, our most traded commodity?

– Will government procurement stay open to all three nations?

If we cannot resolve these issues, then we have to look to Plan B, life without the North American free-trade agreement.

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland’s “hope for the best, prepare for the worst” is a fair characterization of NAFTA’s prospects. The Trump administration continues to ramp up protectionist actions against foreign competition. In recent months, the United States has hit Canada with punitive tariffs on lumber, jets and now newsprint.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s repeated threats to rescind NAFTA is galvanizing hitherto-silent U.S. support into action. The farm community and business, two vital groups in the Trump coalition, want NAFTA improved, not rescinded. Surveys show a majority of Americans like NAFTA. Senators and members of the House of Representatives, especially those in the Midwest and from Texas, are now pressing the President to do no harm to NAFTA.

Canada and Mexico have launched unprecedented outreach campaigns. Canadian envoys have met with more than 65 governors and lieutenant-governors and more than 265 congressmen. We are finding allies. We will need them if Mr. Trump rescinds the agreement or if any new deal reaches Congress.

Canada and Mexico must stay engaged in what should become a permanent campaign to cultivate the biggest market in the world.

But the future of NAFTA now depends on the outcome of the American internal debate.

Canadians faced their moment of truth on trade in 1988. We fought an election over closer economic relations with the United States. It brought prosperity, not, as the critics warned, a loss of sovereignty. Mexicans faced a similar moment in 1994 when they embraced the NAFTA.

For both Canada and Mexico, freer trade proved that we could compete, not just with the U.S., but internationally.

Freer trade also became a catalyst for domestic economic reform.

For Canada, the restructuring included the introduction of a national value-added tax, the GST. Federal and provincial governments cut their deficits. For Mexico, NAFTA restructuring supported democratic change in 2000 after 71 years of one-party rule. More recently, it helped spur the “Pacto por Mexico” reforms to education, finance, labour and energy.

For Americans, NAFTA is a litmus test of its place in the world. Will they replace the rules-based order, created and sustained by the United States for 70 years, with Mr. Trump’s vision of America First? Will Americans set aside their traditional generosity towards other countries with one based on mercantilism and beggar-thy-neighbour?

For the first time, the most important global economy wants to renegotiate a trade agreement by increasing trade barriers so as to balance its trade. It’s a world of big rolling over small. Middle powers like Canada and Mexico need to push back.

Previous U.S. administrations, both Republican and Democrat, saw U.S. internationalism not as an act of charity, but as reflecting U.S. values and principles. As practised by Roosevelt through Reagan and Obama, the United States used its weight to better the global condition, willing to give more than it received. This is the “indispensable nation” that Ms. Freeland described when she laid out the Trudeau foreign policy last June. She described a United States that sustains the global order, for the greater global good, through a network of alliances, trade agreements and international institutions.

Mr. Trump’s “America First” breaks with this American tradition. Will Congress and the courts go along with Trumpism? While Canada and Mexico prepare for the worst, we must stay engaged with the many Americans who see the world, and America’s place in it, differently than Mr. Trump. Ultimately, Trumpism is a test of how Americans see themselves and their place in the world.

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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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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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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

Nafta Negotiators Set to Look for Small Wins After U.S. Threats

  • Talks on trade pact set to resume Wednesday in Mexico City
  • Mexico warns Nafta death will impact U.S, security cooperation
NAFTA is in real trouble, says Gregory Valliere, chief global strategist at Horizon Investments.

As Donald Trump pushes to overhaul U.S. trade ties abroad, negotiations with his two biggest export markets are resuming in hopes of finding new common ground on easier subjects — leaving the most contentious U.S. demands for later.

The fifth round of North American Free Trade Agreement talks starts Wednesday in Mexico City, two days earlier than initially scheduled. It’s the first meeting since U.S., Mexican and Canadian negotiators extended talks to March and added more time between sessions, abandoning Trump’s previous deadline.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer capped the last session by chastising Mexico and Canada for balking at certain demands — it was the U.S. that sought the extension, according to two government officials familiar with the proceedings who spoke on condition of anonymity. The most contentious U.S. demands are on dairy, automotive content, dispute panels, government procurement and a sunset clause.

Mexico is warning talks could impact immigration cooperation with the U.S., while Canada is effectively holding up the Trans Pacific partnership — a deal Trump quit, that was also effectively a Nafta update — as it pushes for improvements. Lighthizer has complained that Mexico and Canada aren’t agreeing to what was already in TPP.

One government official said Nafta negotiations this week are expected to focus on smaller issues related to modernizing the deal, and the thorniest discussions will be put off until later rounds. Many observers expect the same.

“Instructions are ‘let’s keep the ball moving, let’s not have fireworks,’” said Welles Orr, a former assistant U.S. Trade Representative under George H. W. Bush who is now a senior international trade adviser in law firm Miller & Chevalier’s international trade practice in Washington. U.S. lawmakers are fully focused on tax reform and that’s left little bandwidth to push quickly for a Nafta deal, Orr said.

He expects a handful of deals “on noncontroversial items to at least keep the pace of negotiations going and so that they can at least claim they’re making progress.”

‘Litmus Test’

Nafta covers more than $1 trillion a year in trade and government officials have described essentially two sets of negotiations — one focused on modernizing a 23-year-old agreement for an Internet era, and another where Mexico and Canada essentially rejected high-profile U.S. demands on subjects that bear Trump’s finger prints, like dairy and autos.

The negotiations, which started in August, cover 28 areas of trade. The countries have so far reached substantially or fully completed deals on chapters covering competition rules and small- and medium-sized enterprises. Chief negotiators are expected to arrive Friday and the ministers — Lighthizer, Chrystia Freeland and Ildefonso Guajardo — will join next week. A spokeswoman for Lighthizer declined to discuss the upcoming round.

Canada and Mexico are the first- and second-largest buyers of U.S. goods, but the U.S. still has a $53.1 billion merchandise trade deficit with Mexico through September of this year, and a shortfall of $12.4 billion with Canada. Trump has regularly criticized trade deficits and wants to reduce them; Canada and Mexico have said they’re not the best way to measure the success of a trade agreement.

“Nafta has become kind of a litmus test of U.S trade intentions” for other U.S. trading partners in Asia and Europe, said Colin Robertson, senior adviser at the Dentons LLP law firm and a former Canadian diplomat. The U.S. demands signal they’re seeking “a substantial redo” of a pact, and those kinds of negotiations typically take years, he said.

Remove Exports

The willingness to fight in public was obvious at the last round. Lighthizer said he was “surprised and disappointed by the resistance to change,” while Guajardo said Mexico has limits to what it can accept. Canada’s Freeland criticized a “winner-take-all mindset.” While Canada and Mexico may be able to compromise, the real question is whether the U.S. can too.

“What they’re asking of the Canadians and Mexicans is to take away their exports,” said Chad Bown, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “It’s really back to the Trump administration to decide for itself how serious they are about those proposals. If they are serious about them, I don’t see a serious outcome.”

Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray warned over the weekend that Mexico will be less likely to cooperate with the U.S. on security and immigration if Nafta talks collapse. “It’s a fact of life and there is a political reality that a bad outcome on Nafta will have some impact on that,” he said in an interview Saturday at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam. “We don’t want that to happen and we’re working hard to get to a good outcome.”

When asked on Nov. 2 about a deal, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn offered conciliatory words. “We’re trying,” he said in Washington. “Negotiators are continuously meeting, and we’re continuously trying to get to a point where we think that American- based companies and American-based manufacturers are treated fairly in the agreement.”

Trump may have wiggle room after U.S. automakers urged him to keep Nafta, a pact he has said has led to one-sided trade and cost jobs.

Nafta Impact

Linda Hasenfratz, chief executive officer of auto parts maker Linamar Corp., said in an earnings call last week she sees four key areas of dispute — auto rules, the sunset clause, the dispute panels and government procurement. “There’s an opportunity to come to resolution on each of these issues if all parties want that to happen,” Hasenfratz, who sits on Canada’s Nafta advisory council, said on a Nov. 7 earnings call.

An American proposal for 50 percent U.S. content in vehicles has “no chance” of being agreed to, she said, but the overall content requirement could be raised from the current threshold, which requires 62.5 percent of a vehicle be sourced from the three Nafta countries.

If that happens, “there’s a chance we could win some new work,” Hasenfratz said. If Nafta dies, she said it’s likely they’d revert to World Trade Organization tariffs of between 2 and 2.5 percent. “The bottom line is, one way or another, we would deal with the 2 percent,” she said. “No one is going to spend billions of dollars shifting work to different countries for 2 percent.”

Reverting to WTO tariffs would cut Canadian GDP growth by a total of about 1 percent over five to 10 years, Royal Bank of Canada said in a report Friday. “The odds that NAFTA will be torn up, not simply amended, appear to be increasing,” Senior Economist Nathan Janzen wrote. “The end of NAFTA would be a negative outcome for the Canadian economy, but a manageable one.”

— With assistance by Kristine Owram, and Randy Woods

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Negotiating NAFTA: How it works

Behind the scenes of how Canada’s ‘dream team’ negotiates NAFTA

Chief negotiator Steve Verheul, and Canada’s top two officials in Washington, David MacNaughton and Kirsten Hillman, are among the dozens involved in the sensitive trade talks, which see negotiators holed up in a different North American capital’s hotel board rooms every few weeks to hash out the text.

Mexico’s Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer exit a press briefing during the third round of negotiations to rework NAFTA.The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

PUBLISHED :Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017 12:00 AM

Every few weeks this fall, roughly 300 Canadians, Americans, and Mexicans descend on a hotel in one of their respective capitals for about five days. While lobbyists chat in the hotel coffee shop or restaurant and reporters troll for tidbits of news, trade negotiators are holed up in hotel board rooms, sometimes 20 to a room, hashing out how to rework the North American Free Trade Agreement, at times until the wee hours of the morning.

The hundreds of Canadians working on the highly secretive NAFTA renegotiation operate largely behind the scenes and work on a need-to-know basis, but the talks nevertheless follow a formula familiar to the experienced team, say trade experts.

“There’s a considerable effort to keep things fairly quiet in public,” said Queen’s University professor emeritus Robert Wolfe, adding the relatively few leaks to media on Canadian strategy is no mistake.

Representatives of businesses and other groups getting updates or serving in advisory roles have signed non-disclosure agreements.

The negotiations, ongoing since August, involve 28 “tables” or negotiating rooms, each hashing out what will likely become a chapter in the final deal’s text.

These NAFTA talks are different from past trade talks in that the time between rounds is only a few weeks, whereas in other talks it might be months. Also, the politicians leading the talks from the three countries fly in for the end of each round, typically dining with each other, sitting down for formal meetings, and approving a joint communiqué on what was accomplished.

During the latest round, the fourth, in a Washington-area hotel, negotiators seemed to have finished the low-hanging fruit where the three countries could easily agree, and moved on to stickier subjects. “Substantially all” initial text proposals have been tabled, according to the three sides’ joint communiqué at the end of the round.

Canada, the United States, and Mexico have touted progress after effectively closing chapters on small- and medium-sized enterprises and competition, but tensions grew in the fourth round, which ended Oct. 17, as American negotiators were accused of pushing non-starters and United States President Donald Trump mused again about pulling out of the deal if his country doesn’t get what it wants.

After the breakneck speed of initial negotiations, there will now be more time in between, the communiqué said, with Mexico set to host the fifth round of talks in Mexico City from Nov. 17-21. More negotiating rounds will be scheduled through the first quarter of 2018.

Based on past practice, like with the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, there wouldn’t be many Canadians involved who know very much of the big-picture details, and Mr. Wolfe’s sense is with NAFTA even less are in the loop.

“They are being very careful. They really do not want to negotiate in public, they really do not want something being said in Ottawa that could cause a firestorm in the White House because there’s a completely unpredictable negotiating environment.”

It’s a necessity born of the alchemy of several factors: a tight timeline ahead of 2018 elections in Mexico and U.S., the intensity of interest in Canada, and the volatile situation under Mr. Trump and his America-first rhetoric.

 

The tables

The chief negotiators’ table seems to meet all the time during a round, observers noted, made up of John Melle of the United States, Kenneth Smith of Mexico, and Canada’s Steve Verheul. They also would have met early on to determine the topics each table would focus on—which are likely to become the chapters of the deal’s text.

Each table, or negotiating room, works with the text in their chapter alone, while the chief negotiators carry with them the full text and will cover the contentious issues. They usually meet at the beginning and end of the day to debrief with their table leads and funnel key information up to the political leads, in Canada’s case Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.). Sometimes a chief negotiator might interrupt a head of one table if their discussion becomes relevant, but “they try and do it in tandem so they’re not upsetting the process,” said former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson.

Last week, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross circulated a list of 28 topics not previously made public. Global Affairs Canada did not respond to confirm if the list was accurate, after some observers noted oddities, namely the lumping of trade remedies in with dispute settlement and a “securities annex,” which sources told Inside U.S. Trade was not a topic being covered in the talks or something the three countries were looking to include in a new deal.

Other topics included agriculture, customs, energy, environment, digital trade, intellectual property, labour, rules of origin, and technical barriers to trade. While there is a table on gender, which Canada said was a priority, a chapter dedicated to Indigenous people was absent. That’s likely still being handled at the chief negotiators’ table, said Mr. Wolfe.

As much as Canada may publicly push for the above goals and environmental standards, the reality is defensive issues are taking the top spot, said Ottawa-based trade strategist Peter Clark. Hotly contested issues are rules of origin, the review of Chapter 19’s dispute settlement, and supply management, which came into the crosshairs this week as the U.S. demanded its end, according to media reports.

Most of the tables are working from a single unified text, with sections in square brackets highlighting separate language where the sides disagree. A particular clause could have three different versions, or perhaps two, if only one is the odd country out on language agreement. The tables work off that piece of paper until they reach consensus, or one single text they all agree on.

Often the Canadian chapter heads managing each table would be from Global Affairs Canada, but also from the government department responsible for the area. That’s the case with Canada’s chief agriculture negotiator Frédéric Seppey, who observers note is in a uniquely—and historically—public position given the complexity of the highly technical file. Other negotiator names are not public and Global Affairs did not respond to a request for that list.

Other than the heads and their supporting staff, the hundred or so Canadians in Arlington, Va. supporting the negotiations this week didn’t divide into sectors. There are legal staff, regional and provincial experts, including those from the respective department or the embassy in Washington.

“They’re the resource people. They’re to help you from falling into [an] abyss,” Mr. Clark said, adding Canada’s Ambassador to the United States David MacNaughton—the country’s quarterback when it comes to Congress—has a big team working for him, including his No. 2 Kirsten Hillman, deputy head of mission, who used to be Canada’s chief negotiator for the TPP.

“They’re aware where all of the bodies are buried, where Canada has leverage, which states are big suppliers to Canada. He puts it all together,” said Mr. Clark, referring to Mr. McNaughton. He was speaking last week from Washington where he said the sides were going in the rooms to negotiate late in the evening, often with at least half a dozen people from each country. By Sunday, he noted the pace of the meetings had slowed.

In an interview last month, Rideau Potomac Strategy Group president Eric Miller, a former vice-president with the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, called them the “dream team.” Ms. Hillman has the technical knowledge from her years working in trade, including on the TPP, and Mr. MacNaughton, while not a deep trade expert, has the “complete trust” of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.).

Both Mr. Wolfe and Mr. Robertson sit on a trade-experts council that acts as an advisory sounding board to the deputy minister of trade, who briefs the group periodically and seeks their views. There are also a number of advisory groups from various business sectors, Mr. Robertson added. Those groups likely have their own lawyers looking at the language of the deal and aware of the sensitivities.

“That’s why these things run over three or four days, because you are constantly checking back to verify,” Mr. Robertson said.

As much as the action is where the negotiating teams meet, there’s also that chain of check-ins and a fairly complex behind-the-scenes process in Ottawa to develop negotiating objectives and to ensure there is broad support within the government, Mr. Wolfe added.

Hotels make a good space for these sorts of negotiations, said Mr. Robertson, explaining in his experience how they would reorganize tables to fit in a big square or triangle to fit the three sides. Principal negotiators for each country would be in the front row, with those in supporting roles behind.

In this round, Mr. Clark said the board rooms can hold around 20 people.

“Each table will have its own dynamic and it is a reflection in part of the personalities at the table,” said Mr. Robertson, but what’s different here is that the players know each other quite well, many of whom would have been at the table for TPP.

“The rhythm depends on what it is you’re negotiating,” he added.

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