U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland met twice Wednesday and met again Thursday to continue North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiations in hopes of reaching a compromise. Despite a preliminary agreement in August between the U.S. and Mexico, the U.S. and Canada have yet to reach an agreement as the end-of-the-month deadline comes closer.
The U.S. wants to reach a trilateral agreement before Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto’s term ends Nov. 30, but there are several topics to be discussed before that agreement takes place. Time may be running out for a three-way deal. Current law requires the executive branch to provide Congress and the public with any final negotiated text for at least 60 days before it can be voted upon.
Canada would like effective dispute settlement provisions in the anti-dumping cases and the elimination of U.S. tariffs on steel, aluminum and softwood lumber. The U.S. wants access to larger portions of Canada’s protected dairy market, longer intellectual and pharmaceutical patent protection and a higher threshold for duty-free shipments across the U.S.-Canada border.
“Representatives from both the U.S. and Canada are committed to reaching a deal that is advantageous for their country but remain hopeful that comprises can be made on both sides,” the National Sorghum Producers said in its weekly newsletter update to members.
However, ahead of the meetings with Canada, House majority whip Steve Scalise (R., La.) said there is “growing frustration with many in Congress regarding Canada’s negotiating tactics.”
He noted in a statement, “Members are concerned that Canada does not seem to be ready or willing to make the concessions that are necessary for a fair and high-standard agreement. While we would all like to see Canada remain part of this three-country coalition, there is not an unlimited amount of time for it to be part of this new agreement.”
Scalise said Congress takes seriously the deadlines established in the Trade Priorities & Accountability Act (TPA). “We will not shortcut the open, transparent and accountable process established under TPA to ensure that the full text is available to the public,” he said. “Mexico negotiated in good faith and in a timely manner, and if Canada does not cooperate in the negotiations, Congress will have no choice but to consider options about how best to move forward and stand up for American workers.”
President Donald Trump has said he’s ready to move ahead on NAFTA without Canada. However, many heavy-hitter groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable have said Canada needs to be in the final NAFTA deal.
The Canadian Cattlemen Assn. (CCA) said it was in Washington, D.C., to monitor the resumption of the Canada-U.S. NAFTA negotiations in recent weeks. “The CCA and other red meat groups continue to press for improvements through the NAFTA renegotiation on regulatory issues, advocating for a ‘meat annex’ of provisions to remove burdens and smooth trade,” CCA said in a news update.
“There is a general sense that the process is constructive, and Minister Freeland has said as much,” CCA said. “Overall, CCA is cautiously optimistic that there will be a trilateral deal including Canada once a Canada-U.S. ‘handshake’ occurs; then, Mexico will rejoin for negotiations to continue trilaterally.”