WASHINGTON, D.C. It could be “days or weeks” before Canada is invited back to the NAFTA bargaining table, Mexico’s top trade negotiator said Friday after almost a month of meetings between his country and the United States — with no Canadians in the room.
A source familiar with the negotiations said that Canada will definitely not take part when the talks resume next Wednesday.
And as Canada waits on the sidelines, even some trilateral issues around an updated free-trade agreement are being discussed and potentially decided by the others, said one close observer of the process.
Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said his country and the U.S. have been making a lot of progress, but would be back in Washington next week for a fourth week of two-way talks.
Though he had earlier suggested the Canadians could well join them at that point, he was more vague Friday about the timing of Canada’s return.
“It will depend on these meetings in the next few days and weeks to finish the U.S.-Mexico elements, more particularly the bilateral relationship,” said Guajardo outside the United States Trade Representative office, virtually next door to the White House.
Would Canada come in when the bilateral talks are completed, he was asked. “That’s the idea,” Guajardo replied.
A Canadian government official who asked not to be named declined to comment on when its officials would be back at the table, but noted that it’s widely believed the focus of the Mexico-U.S. sessions has been the American desire to see the vehicles it imports duty-free under NAFTA include more North American-made parts and more content produced by high-wage workers. Canada is expected to agree to much of that.
But Dan Ujczo, a trade lawyer regularly briefed on the discussions, said it’s a “myth” they have only been talking about autos, as intellectual property rights, labour rights and other clearly trilateral issues have also arisen.
Should that continue, Canada could end up pressured into accepting deals reached by the other two when it finally returns to the fold, he said.
“We’re leading to a negotiating environment that’s not going to allow parties to make concessions,” he said. “If things are presented as a fait accompli, it becomes very difficult to sell that back home.”
Guajardo seemed to confirm Friday that the negotiations have been wide-ranging, though he has repeatedly described the topics as bilateral.
“We started with a huge list of items to be closed and now we have been able to resolve a great deal,” he told reporters.
Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, left, and Economy Minister Idelfonso Guajardo leave the Office of the United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Washington, Aug.10, 2018.
On the automotive issue, it’s unclear exactly what has been achieved.
Flavio Volpe, head of the Canadian Automobile Parts Manufacturers Association, said the two countries are still haggling over the details of the U.S. proposal – that NAFTA automobiles have 75 per cent North American content and be made 40 to 45 per cent by workers earning at least $16 an hour — with little progress since …read more
Source:: Nationalpost – News