Canada may not return to NAFTA talks for days or weeks, Mexican minister says as meetings with U.S. continue
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Ottawa/Washingto, D.C. (Canadian-Media): After almost a month of meetings between Mexico and the United States with no Canadians in the room, Mexico’s top trade negotiator said Friday that it could be days or weeks before Canada is invited back to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) bargaining table, media reports said.
Canada will definitely not take part when the talks resume next Wednesday, said a source familiar with the negotiations.
Mexico and the U.S. had made a lot of progress, and would be back in Washington next week for a fourth week of two-way talks, said Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo.
In spite of his earlier suggestion that Canadians could join them, on Friday he was unclear about the timing of Canada’s return.
“It will depend on these meetings in the next few days and weeks to finish the U.S.-Mexico elements, more particularly the bilateral relationship,” said Guajardo outside the United States Trade Representative office, next door to the White House.
But, the Canadian government official who asked not to be named, noted the focus of the Mexico-U.S. sessions, in addition to vehicles it imports duty-free under NAFTA, the session wanted to include more North American-made parts and more content produced by high-wage workers.
It was believed that Canada is expected to agree to much of that, although it was unclear exactly what had been achieved on the automotive issue,
Guajardo seemed to confirm Friday that the negotiations had been wide-ranging, and repeatedly described the topics as bilateral.
“We started with a huge list of items to be closed and now we have been able to resolve a great deal,” he told reporters.
U.S. had proposed that NAFTA automobiles should have 75 percent North American content and be made 40 to 45 percent by workers earning at least $16 an hour.
Flavio Volpe, head of the Canadian Automobile Parts Manufacturers Association, said the two countries were still not clear over the details of the U.S. proposal and had made little progress since May.
“It’s trade negotiating’s summer performance of Groundhog Day,” he said, “another day of guessing when terms that don’t change will include guests that aren’t there.”
Dan Ujczo, a trade lawyer regularly briefed on the discussions said the focus of the discussion has been on what tariffs to impose on those Mexican-made cars that don’t comply with the proposed rules of origin.
The U.S. appears to be pushing for something higher than the current, 2.5 percent favoured nation rate.
The auto issue may have some unwanted fall-out for Canada.
The Mexican negotiators have said they are in daily contact with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
But it was felt that the $16-an-hour wage demand threatens to make some Mexican auto plants less competitive.
And one source familiar with the negotiations said U.S Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer will not go easy when Canada joins the talks again.
“Lighthizer is going to turn the screws to Canada,” the person said. “I think we’d better be ready for that.”
(Reporting by Asha Bajaj)