By RICARDO CASTILLO
After the storm comes the calm.
On Friday, Aug. 31, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer sent to Congress the done free-trade agreement between Mexico and the United States, leaving Canada out of the deal…for the moment.
Talks between Lighthizer and Canadian NAFTA negotiator Chrystia Freeland at the end of the day did not go sour, but the two could not come to a definitive agreement and their bilateral talks are slated to restart on Wednesday, Sept. 5.
Mexico’s Foreign Relations Secretariat said the U.S. notification to Congress was “a step ahead in the formalization of the understandings reached between Mexico and the United States in relation to NAFTA and Mexico maintains hopes that in the end it will be a trilateral agreement, as it has been since 1994, but from now on, Mexico will only participate in trilateral negotiations, but will keep pushing to have Canada to be part of the agreement.”
In Canada, there was a big hoopla Friday over an allegedly “off the record” comment published by the Toronto Star newspaper in which U.S. President Donald Trump suggested that Washington was in “complete control” of the negotiations and unwilling to make any concessions.
Trump, true to his imperative style, was quoted by a Bloomberg News reporter as saying that his stance was going to be “so insulting they (the Canadians) are not going to be able to make a deal.” The statement set loose a rash of negative comments.
In a press conference previous to her meeting with Lightizer, Freeland made clear that “Canada will not cave in to any demand. We’re looking for a deal that’s good for Canada. We’re not there yet.”
While holding an event in Oshawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau repeated Freeland’s position when asked about Trump’s remarks. Being all too familiar with Trump’s “off the record” tirades, Trudeau just said: “We’re going to remain constructive, positive, serious and creative about what we do around the negotiating table, in what we do in relation with the United States.”
Beyond all the noise, it is expected Canada and the United States will eventually reach a deal and it will be then, and only then, that Lighthizer will send a note to Congress to include Canada in what for now remains a bilateral trade understanding between Mexico and the United States to be signed come November.
In the mean time, in the Canadian media, a hot debate continues over Canada’s attachment of Chapter 19 of NAFTA, which establishes independent panels for the settlement of trade disputes concerning tariffs and dumping. Some claim Chapter 19 is useless, while others sustain that it is a bars hold against U.S. trade abuses.
And it is Chapter 19 that’s holding back the Canada-U.S. final NAFTA negotiations.