By Barry Ellsworth
Negotiations on a new trade deal have created deep divides and talks will now extend into 2018, representatives of Mexico, Canada and the U.S. said at a press conference Tuesday in Washington.
When the revamping of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – embarked on by order of U.S. President Donald Trump – began in August, all sides hoped a new deal could be concluded by Jan. 1.
But U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer spoke in a frosty tone at the news conference that concluded round four of negotiations.
He said he was “surprised and disappointed by the resistance to change on the part of our negotiating partners.”
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland did not mince words. She charged the U.S. with deliberately trying to sabotage the talks by presenting a list of “troubling” proposals. She also noted the agreement has worked well for more than two decades.
“Yet in rounds three and four, we have seen proposals that turn back the clock on 23 years of predictability, openness and collaboration under NAFTA,” Freeland said at the press conference with Lighthizer standing on her right.
“In some cases, these proposals run counter to World Trade Organization rules. This is troubling.”
She said all three countries had benefited from jobs and opportunities under NAFTA.
The sides are far apart on a number of issues, including dispute settling mechanisms in NAFTA, dairy imports and auto manufacturing rules that heavily favor American interests.
A new agreement cannot be reached with a “winner-takes-all mindset,” Freeland said, or one that tries to undermine instead of modernizing the terms.
Lighthizer said Mexico and Canada were refusing to give in to proposals that would help address America’s “huge” trade deficit and create more manufacturing jobs in the U.S., fulfilling Trump’s America First pledge
“I understand that after many years of one-sided benefits, their (Mexico and Canadian) companies have been reliant on special preferences and not just comparative advantage,” he said.
Mexican Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal said the three countries must take a more conciliatory and constructive tone so as not to create a “lose-lose-lose” scenario.
“None of us want to end this process empty-handed, and there is no reason for that,” he said at the press conference.