Trump hamstrings US NAFTA negotiators, Canada's chief negotiator says

Canada's chief NAFTA negotiator Steve Verheul centre during NAFTA negotiations in Montreal on Jan. 25

Verheul said a US demand that would slash the amount of government procurement contracts for Canadian and Mexican firms "is the worst offer ever made by the any trade negotiation". "So they are looking to strengthen the US and by doing that weaken Canada and Mexico within the North American economy", Verheul told an Ottawa conference organized by the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

The NAFTA renegotiation survived its sixth round of talks in Montreal, with US trade czar Robert Lighthizer saying enough progress was made to push forward despite American dissatisfaction with some Canadian proposals.

Lighthizer, who has criticized Canada's negotiating posture much more frequently than he has criticized Mexico's, specified that the progress is occurring "particularly with respect to the Mexicans", and he said "we have a number of issues that we still have to work our way through".

Steve Verheul, Canada's chief negotiator, told an Ottawa audience that the United States aimed to weaken Canada and Mexico rather than ensure that the $1.2 trillion trilateral trade pact benefited all three members.

Tuesday's hard-hitting and sobering update from Steve Verheul came on the same day that USA trade czar Robert Lighthizer took another shot at Canada by suggesting more progress on the continental trade pact was being made with Mexico.

President Donald Trump's threat to trigger NAFTA's six-month withdrawal notice remains plausible and Canada is ready for any eventuality, he said.

"If the to go alone, not only would North American be weakened, but I think the USA would also be weakened economically".

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 and Mexico alike have branded a non-starter.

During his first 100 days in office, President Trump threatened to pull out of the agreement unless Canada and Mexico agreed to meet and amend the treaty, and even implied that he would be just as happy tearing the agreement up as he would be amending it.

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Canada will stay at the negotiating table for as long as it takes, Verheul said.

In a speech at the Ronald Reagan presidential library where he is trying to muster support for a renegotiated NAFTA, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, "if trade between Canada and the a bad idea, then there are no good ideas". "We are not interested in a trade deal that would put you in second place and not be fair to Canada", Sessions added. They know their economy will suffer without us.

The shift in attitude doesn't mean lawmakers don't want NAFTA to be updated to include enforceable provisions on protecting intellectual property rights, dairy exports, streamlining customs procedures, labor, e-commerce and energy trade.

"We've made what I would characterize as fairly limited progress overall. the main issue is that we have seen limited USA flexibility, even on fairly easy issues", said Verheul.

Steve Verheul says that's because the talks are moving "a bit too fast".

The memorial would request that the United States government commit to protecting the current investments in the agreement as it negotiates with Mexico and Canada to change the agreement.

"We have no choice but to continue to ... impress on the USA that this can not be a winner-takes-all agreement", he said.

Canada has no position on that because it is not clear what Trump is talking about, Verheul said.



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