U.S. to soften demands in Ottawa NAFTA talks: former trade rep
Published Tuesday, September 5, 2017 1:47PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, September 5, 2017 11:11PM EDT
Canada will not have a home field advantage when the third round of NAFTA negotiations rotates to Ottawa later this month, according to an Obama-era deputy U.S. trade representative.
But Robert Holleyman continues to hold out hope that the hard-nosed American delegation’s decision to dig in on key issues does not signal a deal can’t be reached by year’s end. He expects U.S. expectations will soften in Ottawa as the three nations gravitate towards a “North America first” compromise.
“It’s not surprising that all three countries would be tabling significant value-add propositions for their own economies to try and set the stage for the real detailed negotiations that will take place in the coming round,” Holleyman told CTV’s Power Play on Tuesday. “I don’t think it is off the rails.”
The Ottawa round of negotiations will begin Sept. 23 and continue until Sept. 27, according to Global Affairs Canada. Future rounds will rotate between the three countries.
While a pattern of one trilateral partner countering another with so-called “deal-killer” provisions appears to have emerged in Mexico, Holleyman feels the pace of negotiation is actually moving “quite rapidly,” and said Canada is holding its own at the bargaining table.
“I think Canada is being quite smart. Minister (Chrystia) Freeland understands that 80 per cent of what is going to be in the renegotiated NAFTA has already been agreed to when the three countries, in October 2015, concluded TPP,” he said.
Negotiators for Canada, the U.S., and Mexico wrapped up second-round talks in Mexico City that were said to be steeped in tension over low wages for Mexican workers, and a U.S. proposal to abolish the current resolution mechanism, known as Chapter 19.
Canada, for its part, is said to have ruffled feathers by asking for broader visa privileges for workers and refusing to open a discussion on loosing agricultural protections on dairy and poultry.
Holleyman expects the third round of NAFTA negotiations will see U.S. negotiators back away from a stance that appears to be predicated on striking a deal without any major concessions on their part.
“My sense is that with the U.S. Congress having a key role, and needing to vote on this, that ultimately the U.S. will be reasonable and there will be a deal that can be reached,” he said.
As for U.S. President Donald Trump’s repeated threats to “terminate” the three-nation trade pact, Hollyman believes the self-professed expert deal maker may have played that card prematurely.
“That hand could have been a strong one for the president to play near the end of the negotiation. He played it quite early,” he said. “My guess is that emboldened the Canadians and the Mexicans to realize that it was probably more bluff and bluster than it is reality.”