Next Round Of NAFTA Talks Set For Mexico City; Canadian Negotiators Pessimistic Of Deal

With a seventh round of talks aimed at revising the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) scheduled to take place in Mexico City at the end of February, Canada’s Chief Negotiator says only limited progress has been made in revamping the continental trade pact.

With substantial differences remaining on automobiles, a sunset clause and an investor-dispute resolution mechanism, and U.S. demands for greater market access to Canada’s protected dairy industry, Canada’s Chief Negotiator Steve Verheul says progress to date has been “limited,” and added that the negotiations are moving “too fast” for concrete work to get done.

Among the main concerns of Canada’s negotiating team are a “Buy American” component that would limit how many public contracts can be won by the U.S.’ free-trade partners. The U.S. has proposed limiting Canada and Mexico to one dollar of contracts for every dollar in contracts granted by Canada and Mexico to American companies, an idea Canada has called “a non-starter.”

The Buy American proposal may well be the worst ever put forth in a trade negotiation, said Mr. Verheul when speaking to reporters. He added that the U.S. negotiators seem to be hamstrung at the bargaining table by expectations in the White House. Mr. Verheul added that the worst possible outcome would be for the U.S. to go it alone — a scenario that Mr. Verheul warned would weaken North America, allowing other countries and regions to take advantage.

Despite the ongoing concerns, Mr. Verheul said that Canada will stay at the negotiating table for as long as it takes to get a deal on NAFTA. But it’s impossible to predict the next move of a notoriously unpredictable U.S. President, he warned — a move that could include a NAFTA pullout. U.S. President Donald Trump complained about Canadian trade practices earlier this week, saying “Canada does not treat us right.” President Trump also threatened an undefined international tax, reviving fears of new American import penalties.