WASHINGTON – The NAFTA countries aren’t breaking up. But they are publicly bickering. They are delaying their next get-together date. And they appear to have agreed they won’t be resolving their differences by the end of this year.
The tensions at the negotiating table have exploded into public view.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer says NAFTA talks are being extended into 2018, and the next negotiating round is being pushed back almost three weeks in a tacit admission that negotiators aren’t going to meet their original deadline for a deal by year-end.
The proposals tabled at the latest round have revealed huge chasms in negotiating positions, on everything from dairy and autos to even the basic architecture of an agreement — and the tone of Tuesday’s news conference made clear the talks have turned downright frosty.
Lighthizer said other countries are struggling to accept the reality that the U.S. wants to rebalance its trade agreements. He said other countries and industries must stop counting on easy export access to the U.S. market.
“Frankly I am surprised and disappointed by the resistance to change from our negotiating partners,” he said, with his Canadian and Mexican colleagues standing at his sides.
“We have seen no indication that our partners are willing to make any changes that will result in a rebalancing.”
We have seen no indication that our partners are willing to make any changes that will result in a rebalancing.U.S. trade rep Robert Lighthizer
He urged all sides to consider being more flexible before the talks resume again in Mexico next month. The next round starts Nov. 17, three weeks later than the original anticipated Oct. 27 start date.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland sounded a marginally more diplomatic note. But she made it clear Canada believes others at the table are preventing progress from being made.
“Vice-President Mike Pence (said this summer) that he believed a win-win-win outcome would be achieved in these negotiations. Canada believes that too,” she said.
“But that cannot be achieved with a winner-take-all mindset or an approach that seeks to undermine NAFTA rather than modernize it… We’ve … seen a series of unconventional proposals in critical areas of the negotiations that make our work much more challenging.
Freeland doesn’t pull punches
“We have seen proposals that would turn back the clock on 23 years of predictability, openness and collaboration under NAFTA. In some cases these proposals run counter to WTO rules. This is troubling.”
The ministers even disagreed on stage about the economic importance of trade deficits. The Trump administration insists reversing them matters to U.S. prosperity, and although NAFTA partners represent only a small share of that global U.S. deficit he said they must accept that change.
The U.S. has surprised its neighbours by proposing things like a sunset clause that could end NAFTA in five years, along with plans to gut the agreement’s enforcement mechanisms.
That’s made it explicitly clear the U.S. does not envision the easy negotiation other countries had hoped for, and which some Americans themselves had hinted at — including President Donald Trump, who recently said he only wanted a few tweaks to trade with Canada.
‘Win, win, win’ not ‘lose, lose, lose’: Mexico’s rep
Mexico’s Economic Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo acknowledged that the talks would be difficult. He said obstacles to progress remain and that all sides need to work towards constructive solutions.
He urged countries to pursue a “win, win, win” — not a “lose, lose, lose.”
“We must understand that we all have limits,” Guajardo said. “We must ensure the decisions we make today do not come back to haunt us tomorrow.”