NAFTA: Talks continue through weekend in scramble to get a deal

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland called negotiations ‘perpetual’

NAFTA negotiating teams will keep bargaining through the weekend in a rush to get a deal by early May, fuelled by a Trump administration desire to meet a legislative deadline.

Those teams kept talking while their political masters leading the process left Washington on Friday, with plans to reconvene there early next week.

Sources familiar with the talks say the sides are finalizing rules on auto parts; are still far apart over dairy, public procurement, and pharmaceuticals; and are likely inching toward a deal that will pare down the controversial dispute mechanism under NAFTA’s Chapter 11 that lets companies sue governments.

”You can call this a perpetual negotiating round,” Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said, before departing for the weekend.

”We have had some very energetic and productive conversations.”

She and her Mexican colleague are both rejecting the idea of deadline pressure, insisting there is no requirement to get everything done by some specific date: ”It will take as long as it takes to get a great win-win deal,” Freeland said.

But the Trump administration has political reasons to hurry. There are just weeks left to meet the legislative deadlines for ratifying a deal in the U.S. Congress this year.

The administration is keen to have the agreement voted on during the current, friendlier, Republican-led Congress, as polls show a potential transfer in power after the November midterms.

The White House has been weighing different hardball tactics to force Congress to move quickly on ratification and one involves a dramatic threat to cancel the existing NAFTA if lawmakers don’t approve the new one.

That carrot-and-stick tactic would be extremely high-risk, said Phil Levy, a former trade economist for George W. Bush and a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

It would see President Donald Trump invoke the six-month termination clause, which allows a president to later pull out of NAFTA, and let that risk hang over lawmakers as they deliberate over the new agreement.

It’s a strategy Trump has tried before on immigration, so far without success — he cancelled an executive order granting clemency to young migrants and pressed Congress to restore that clemency in a more comprehensive immigration law, which has not happened.

”The administration does not appear to have thought through a viable conclusion for its NAFTA strategy,” said Levy, who also wrote an article for the Forbes website titled ”What Could Go Wrong?” which listed 10 potential risks of this plan.

But one person who has occasionally consulted U.S. trade officials during these negotiations said it’s a logical tactic, to create some pressure on lawmakers who might otherwise opt for inaction and the status quo.

Lori Wallach of the progressive group Public Citizen, which is allied with Trump’s team on some trade issues, says many Republicans will be unhappy with changes to business protections under Chapter 11 — and this would force them to vote.

”There’s a broad bipartisan majority in both (congressional) chambers for passing an agreement if it forces a choice,” Wallach said.

”This is not rocket science… This is the choice you always have.”

She discounted another rumour rippling around Washington — that Trump could revise NAFTA by executive order. Other governments have done it in the past, as the agreement actually lets them tinker with several important details, namely automobile rules of origin.

And auto changes are actually the heart of the new pact, Freeland said.

Sources say negotiators are extremely close to an agreement on that issue and are now discussing fine details, like whether to require that a certain percentage of a car be produced by workers making $15 an hour, $16, or a varying range between $16-$19, or whether that dollar threshold should be a median of wages in all three countries.

However, Mexico’s Ildefonso Guajardo dismissed the idea that a new NAFTA will be just about cars.

”No, no, no,” he said.

”There is no sense to modernize the NAFTA, to upgrade the NAFTA, if it’s not based on what you have built in the original one plus new items that have to be (added) according to modernity and the new economy.”

He said negotiators are well advanced in adjustments to telecommunications, energy and digital trade rules.

Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

PHOTO GALLERY: Malicous Monster Truck Tour

The Malicious Monster Truck Tour sold out to crowds of 2,500 people… Continue reading

North Coast fishing grounds key to orca recovery: DFO

Plan marks waters from Langara to Rose Spit as critical habitat for northern resident killer whales

Chris Green, mother of scouts, passes away

Green, who was born near Kitimat, spent more than 60 years volunteering with Scouts Canada

Intertidal Music Festival back for round two

More than 20 performances throughout the day at the North Pacific Cannery on July 21

Alberta man missing on Kitimat River found dead

Body found on July 11 after going missing on July 7

VIDEO: Trudeau shuffles familiar faces, adds new ones to expanded cabinet

Justin Trudeau shuffles his front bench Wednesday to install the roster of ministers that will be entrusted with leading the Liberal team into next year’s election.

Wildfires erupt in B.C. Okanagan forcing evacuation orders and a highway closure

Check out a list of up-to-date information on blazes happening within the Kamloops Wildfire Centre.

‘Amazing Race Canada’ competitors face B.C. challenge

They drove Corvettes, mastered falconry basics, and ate blueberry pie in the Cowichan Valley

Grizzly bear jumps in river, chases B.C. kayaker

The bear got a bit too close for comfort along the Elaho River near Squamish

Evacuation alert issued due to Dog Creek Trail Wildfire

An evacuation alert has been issued by the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako… Continue reading

Parks Canada looks to shine light on cloudy future for historic sites

A plan is in place to produce 10-year plans designed to turn around sagging attendance figures

B.C. poet shines a bright light on struggle with homelessness

Book launch for John La Greca’s Homeless Memorial is at Vernon’s Gallery Vertigo July 21.

Ontario police say attack on Muslim man was motivated by hate

Two men, aged 27 and 19, have been charged with assault in the incident

Canadian Tire delivers toys to ease kids’ street play pain in B.C. neighbourhood

It’s like Christmas for 11 kids who are supposed to be confined to their yards by strata bylaw

Most Read