Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Trump pushing hard for NAFTA agreement in principle as soon as possible

(April 3) The Trump administration is pushing hard for a preliminary NAFTA agreement in order to announce it at a summit in Peru next week.
Bypassing regular negotiations
According to three people familiar with the talks the Trump administration will host talks with cabinet ministers in Washington to attempt a breakthrough on the NAFTA renegotiations.
The White House wants leaders from Canada and Mexico to join in revealing the broad outlines of an updated pact at the Summit of the Americas that starts on April 13. Meanwhile technical talks hammer out the finer details and legal text could continue on. The three people who revealed this asked not to be identified as the talks are private.
The negotiations are already quite opaque with little detail of what is happening being revealed. Although what happens at these meetings is quite important to the welfare of the general public the public has little say in what goes on. It seems that the negotiating groups are not moving fast enough, so the US is having just high level political representatives from the three countries negotiate a deal in principle and will leave the details to the staff of the negotiators.
Major divisions remain among the 3 countries
Divisions remain even on the US proposal for more North American content in automobiles. There was supposed to be a breakthrough on the issue but apparently it is still not settled. There are wide divergences between the US chief negotiator, Robert Lighthizer and that of the chief Canadian negotiator on the progress of the talks with the latter claiming little of importance has been settled and there are wide differences. The US negotiator claims they are near an agreement in principle. Perhaps this is wishful thinking.
The White House has not commented on these rumored plans to announce a NAFTA deal.
Mexican official to meet Lighthizer in Washington
Two of the informants claim that Ildefenso Guajardo, the Mexican Economy Minister will meet with the US Trade Representative Lighthizer this Wednesday. Some meetings could include Jared Kushner and the Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgray. Apparently Kushner and Videgray have been handling relationships between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Nieto.
In the upcoming Mexican presidential elections the clear leader is a leftist NAFTA sceptic. No doubt the US would like to see the deal finished before the election.
Further Washington meetings
On Thursday Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland will fly to Washington to meet with Lighthizer. Meetings on Friday would include all three countries' representatives.
Originally there were to be an eighth round of NAFTA talks that were to start in Washington next week. Lighthizer is alleged to have fought against this idea and there has as yet been no invitation for people to resume talks. He claims more progress can be made by holding meetings between smaller groups of negotiators. Perhaps the US hopes to better control events in this environment. The new scheme seems to have come from Lighthizer and the US.
In spite of Trump from time to time threatening to abandon NAFTA, the US actually seems anxious to obtain an agreement. It has gone so far as using various bullying tactics to do so.
Adam Austen, a spokesperson for Canadian minister Freeland's office said: “Canada is committed to concluding a modern, mutually beneficial NAFTA as soon as possible." He declined to comment on what her travel plans were.while declining to comment on her schedule. Mexican officials had no comment.
Trump's bullying tactics
Trump has made Canada and Mexico being excluded from steel and aluminum tariffs contingent upon a NAFTA agreement creating leverage to gain concessions favorable to the US.
Lighthizer told reporters: “The president’s view was that it makes sense that if we get a successful agreement, to have them be excluded. It’s an incentive to get a deal." One could consider this a threat as well.
Trump also claimed that Mexico's failure to stop the migrant flow into the US threatened the NAFTA deal.
Important issues for Canada such as the proportionality clause are not even being considered. NAFTA is less a free trade deal than a pact to create international structures that will further the interest of global corporations. Trump wants to make those structures more favorable to the national interests of the US. Global corporations are probably willing to concede a few crumbs to Trump's America First policy as long as their global interests are not much impacted by the concessions.


Published previously in Digital Journal

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