Annoyed with Canada, U.S. trade czar floats idea of separate NAFTA deals: lawmaker

WASHINGTON — The United States trade czar is expressing frustration with Canada in the NAFTA negotiations, even floating the idea of concluding a quick agreement with Mexico and sorting out a deal with Canada later, according to an American lawmaker who attended a meeting with him Wednesday.

Ron Kind is one of numerous congressmen who attended a rare briefing on Capitol Hill with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who Kind said brought up the notion of splitting the NAFTA negotiations as a way of advancing the talks.

“He thinks more progress has been made with Mexico. And that there might be a way to wrap things up and down and just maintain ongoing negotiations with Canada at that point,” said Kind, a Wisconsin Democrat, as he left the meeting.

“He would not be dissatisfied with just doing a bilateral with Mexico and continuing negotiations (with Canada).”

Kind wouldn’t say whether Lighthizer talked about splitting the actual NAFTA in two, or just separating the negotiations: ”You should probably ask him,” he said. Three other lawmakers who left the meeting wouldn’t confirm or deny what Lighthizer said.

The U.S. trade czar, for his part, brushed off the question: “You know I don’t talk,” Lighthizer said as he left the meeting, which was convened to discuss the state of the NAFTA negotiations with one of two congressional committees that handles trade.

Some meeting participants said Lighthizer’s remarks might be tactical — to simply up the pressure on Canada to accede to U.S. demands.

”Negotiations are all about leverage,” said Brian Higgins, a Democrat from upper New York state.”So finding those leverage points is important. Could it be done trilaterally? I don’t know.”

Some Democrats called it strange to say things are going more smoothly with Mexico — when the most fundamental issues involve Mexico and have yet to be settled, including labour rights, outsourced jobs and auto rules of origin.

Sander Levin said the U.S. administration might be annoyed at some of Canada’s recent trade moves, but he doesn’t see how the dynamics of the negotiation have changed much since the U.S. supposedly entered these talks to bring back manufacturing jobs from Mexico.

”I think Canada’s filing the (World Trade Organization) complaint (against the U.S.) was very unsettling,” Levin said.

”But my own judgment is in terms of the basic issue, with Mexico, they’re moving backwards. … I don’t see how when they’re moving backwards on this key issue, with Mexico, that it makes much sense to talk about a separate agreement with Mexico.”

One progressive group allied with the administration on some trade issues says it’s not surprised by the talk of two negotiations.

”I have heard that,” said Lori Wallach of the Washington-based progressive group Public Citizen.

”There is a scenario where Mexico and the U.S. have a deal and the agreement with Canada lapses. Which is crazy.”

She said nobody entering the negotiations would have expected more problems between the U.S. and Canada. But she said the Trump administration has grown annoyed with what it perceives to be political posturing by Canada, aimed at its own domestic audience.

Yet many U.S. lawmakers are critical of their own government.

There is little appetite on Capitol Hill for ending NAFTA — and many lawmakers view their own administration’s behaviour as jeopardizing the agreement. The Democrats are more vocal about it.

”We’ve got a president who is impulsive and incoherent at best. And he started all this,” Higgins said, adding that there likely can’t be an agreement unless it satisfies Trump’s demand to reduce America’s import-export deficit.

Kind said the U.S. approach has been all wrong. He accused the administration of strong-arm tactics designed to make enemies — not deals.

”Since we’re the biggest dog on the block (Lighthizer thinks) everyone should just succumb to all our wishes,” he said.

“I think it’s a lousy negotiating tactic to have. Because (negotiations) are always gonna be a product of give-and-take, back-and-forth, and we need to create win-win-win situations. But he thinks because we’ve got the biggest GDP we can muscle anyone to our desire. …

“I’m just concerned. If we drop the ball on this, if we can’t figure out a way to live in peace and harmony with our two border neighbours, there’s not a country in the world that’s going to have an interest in sitting down and negotiating with the United States of America. What’s the point?”

One thing the U.S. is apparently demanding from Canada: concrete numbers on autos at the next round.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said in an interview that she met the chief U.S. NAFTA negotiator this week, during her trip to Washington and that while Canada’s recent ideas on autos have not been completely rejected, the U.S. wants more specific details about how it would work.

Just Posted

Art Battle Red Deer to support Women of Excellence Awards

Art Battle Red Deer will be April 6 at the Radisson Hotel

Eliminating racial discrimination events in Red Deer this week

Two upcoming events aim to inspire change and eliminate racial discrimination in… Continue reading

Outfitter facing Wildlife Act charges

It is alleged archery-only hunting licences used out of season

Sunnybrook pies in demand

Just in time for Easter

Red Deer’s Chopped Canada winner takes break from restaurant business

Pete Sok closes Sophear, but plans to eventually relocate

WATCH: Red Deerians can have a say about crime fighting

Municipality will poll citizens about policing priorities

21-year-old charged with drug trafficking in Rocky Mountain House

RCMP seized drugs after conducting a traffic stop and charged a 21-year-old… Continue reading

Liberal bill would tighten controls on sale, licensing of firearms

OTTAWA — Gun retailers would be required to keep records of firearms… Continue reading

Alberta factoring in Trans Mountain pipeline in budget forecasts

EDMONTON — Finance Minister Joe Ceci says Alberta will rely on anticipated… Continue reading

Pooches and pickup truck stolen in Edmonton found in Rimbey

Two old English bulldogs named Rocky and Jersey who were in a… Continue reading

Statistics Canada reports wholesale sales up 0.1 per cent in January

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says wholesale sales rose 0.1 per cent to… Continue reading

Right whale deaths cost Gulf snow crab fishery its designation as sustainable

HALIFAX — An international organization has suspended a sustainability certificate for the… Continue reading

Financial watchdog says controls to mitigate sales risk at banks ‘insufficient’

TORONTO — Canada’s financial consumer watchdog says there are “insufficient” controls in… Continue reading

Sheriff official: 3 injured in Maryland high school shooting

GREAT MILLS, Md. — A shooting at a Maryland high school Tuesday… Continue reading

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month