By Randy Gordon, President
While the official communication emanating from the second round of negotiations to update the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) conducted on Sept. 1-5 in Mexico City, Mexico, took an optimistic tone, there are indications that foot-dragging by Canadian trade negotiators slowed what could have been even greater progress.
In a joint statement issued Sept. 5, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and his counterparts – Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Mexican Economic Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo – noted that more than two dozen working groups comprised of trade experts and technical officials “worked diligently to advance the discussions” and exchanged information and proposed text language. “In several groups, this engagement resulted in the consolidation of proposals into a single text upon which the teams will continue to work during subsequent negotiation rounds,” the joint statement read.
The joint communique further stated that “important progress was achieved in many disciplines and the parties expect more in coming weeks” when the talks resume from Sept. 23-27 in Ottawa, Canada. In the joint statement, the three officials also “reaffirmed their commitment to an accelerated and comprehensive negotiation, with the shared goal of concluding the process towards the end of the year.”
However, there were multiple reports that while the United States offered proposed text for several sections of a modernized NAFTA to which Mexico responded constructively, Canadian negotiators withheld judgment. One such area was on sanitary and phytosanitary issues, where the parties began with – and improved upon – text that the three countries already had agreed to as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade accord from which President Trump subsequently withdrew. The Wall Street Journal also reported that Canada “appears to be giving the United States the most difficulty at the negotiating table,” introducing new provisions on labor and the environment – including a proposal for gender equality in the workplace – and “balking at supporting some less-controversial language (Canada) agreed to in the TPP.” Canada also reportedly has been unwilling to table proposals to address its trade-distortive policies on dairy, softwood lumber and poultry.
In a separate closing statement, Lighthizer said the three countries had “found mutual agreement on many important issues,” and that their work “continues at a record pace” with draft trade agreement language tabled for more than two dozen chapters of NAFTA. He again reiterated the “very important priority” that NAFTA represents for President Trump, and that the U.S. delegation “is focused on expanding opportunities for American agriculture, services and innovative industries” but “must also address the needs of those harmed by the current NAFTA, especially our manufacturing workers.” Said Lighthizer: “We must have a trade agreement that benefits all Americans, and not just some at the expense of others.”