Political Rhetoric Dominates NAFTA Talks In Montreal

Negotiations taking place in Montreal aimed at saving and updating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are being overshadowed by strong political rhetoric from Canada, the United States and Mexico – all of whom are blaming each other for a lack of progress at the bargaining table.

Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland is meeting in Montreal this week with Mexico's Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo and U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer as the NAFTA talks resume. But the politicians and their staff spent their first day together blaming the other countries for the fact that the NAFTA discussions have bogged down and not progressed as expected.

The Canadian Press reported late Tuesday that the Americans are not only frustrated with Canada over the lack of progress, but also the recent complaint that Canada made against the U.S. at the World Trade Organization (WTO). A staff member in Minister Freeland’s office countered that it is "nonsense" to suggest Canada is being obstructionist.

"Obviously, the unconventional proposals from the U.S. have been the core issues since round four, but it is clearly in their tactical interest to paint a different picture," the staffer told Canadian Press on background.

For its part, Mexico continues to reject U.S. suggestions that link the NAFTA talks to a contentious proposal that the Mexican government fund construction of a wall along its border with America. And, U.S. President Donald Trump continued to disparage NAFTA at the World Economic Forum being held this week in Davos, Switzerland, calling it “the worst deal ever.”

"I think it's contentious," former U.S. diplomat Sarah Goldfeder told CBC News about the NAFTA negotiations. "But it is something that is par for the course in trade negotiations, especially when so much is on the line.”

The Americans have put forward five so-called "poison pills", which neither Canada nor Mexico will support. American demands include dramatically altering the auto sector, implementing a sunset clause, changes to government procurement, the dairy industry, and the trade deal’s dispute management system.

Minister Freeland said earlier this week that Canadian negotiators were entering the current round of talks with a slate of "creative proposals" to counter some of the demands made by the U.S. The NAFTA negotiations continue in Montreal through the end of this week.