As Canada, the U.S. and Mexico enter the final stretch of negotiations around an updated NAFTA, the former American ambassador to Ottawa says it’s time for the White House to lay all its cards on the table.
In an interview on this weekend’s edition of The West Block, Bruce Heyman said in spite of some of the threats and mixed messages coming out of Washington, he’s confident that none of the lingering disagreements are insurmountable.
“If the U.S. administration wants a deal, there is a deal to be had here,” Heyman said.
“The real question is, does the U.S. administration actually want a deal?”
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President Donald Trump has proven that he’s willing to pull the U.S. out of things he doesn’t like, the ambassador explained, and that threat still looms over the NAFTA negotiating table.
Meanwhile, as they face midterm elections this fall, many officials in the Republican Party want to be able to present an updated trade agreement to their constituents.
“There are others that seem to be a bit more intransigent, and they’re fighting deals,” he said.
“These are the people who are whispering in Donald Trump’s ear — or himself — that walked away from Paris, that walked away from (the Trans Pacific Partnership), that just walked away from Iran … this is the battle that going on, I think, within the administration.”
Still, near the end of talks involving the Trans Pacific Partnership, it often seemed like none of the parties would budge on certain elements, Heyman noted, but then there was compromise.
“The very end of trade negotiations is when a lot can happen.”
The pace of talks has picked up over the last few weeks, with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland jetting back and forth to Washington several times. The U.S. Congress has made it clear it’s anxious to see a new agreement announced this week, otherwise it won’t be able to vote on it until 2019.
Freeland flew back to Canada on Friday, but there was no sign that any such agreement had been reached.
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There remain several sticking points, including rules surrounding the auto sector and Trump’s insistence that the deal be renegotiated every five years (a sunset clause). Meanwhile, the Americans have hinted that Canada’s exemption from steel and aluminum tariffs could also hang in the balance.
“A lot of threats are being made right now by the White House, which is unfortunate … that you have to fall into threats at this stage of the game.”