September 26, 2018

U.S. to Publish NAFTA Text on Friday

 |  By: Bloomberg News

The Trump administration will publish the text for its bilateral trade deal with Mexico on Friday, which will likely exclude Canada but leave open the possibility for the country to join the agreement later, three people familiar with the matter said.

Under U.S. trade law, the text of the pact has to be published 60 days before it’s signed. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Tuesday that the U.S. is moving forward with the pact by Sunday so current Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto can sign it before leaving office on Dec. 1. Canada, in negotiations with the U.S. to join the agreement, has been unwilling to make concessions and there are still significant differences over several issues, said Lighthizer.

The U.S. doesn’t want to risk having to re-negotiate its bilateral pact with the incoming administration in Mexico, led by President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, he said.

“If we push it beyond that date then we have a new negotiation with Lopez Obrador and we don’t know where that would go at all,” Lighthizer said at the Concordia annual summit in New York. “It would be unfair to all the people that have been involved, certainly the U.S. workers, farmers and ranchers, to start a new negotiation with a new president of Mexico.”

Lighthizer said on Tuesday that trade talks with Canada will continue even after the Sunday deadline. The U.S. and Canada may even carve out a separate deal, he said.

Brief Reception

Lighthizer didn’t meet with his Canadian counterpart, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly this week. President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had a brief greeting in New York Tuesday, indicating lingering resentment.

Lighthizer on Thursday will brief the House Ways and Means Committee with jurisdiction over trade and other House committees on the status of the talks to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement, two of the people said.

Lighthizer’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. business community and members of the U.S. Congress have said they want Nafta to remain a three-way deal, as some key Republican lawmakers put pressure on Canada to make concessions to stay in the trading bloc. Congress gets the final vote on the agreement.

Trudeau said Wednesday that Canada has a “broad range of paths” ahead of it in Nafta talks but will continue to work toward a trilateral deal. Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., David MacNaughton, speaking to reporters in Toronto Wednesday, said Canada is looking for protection from tariffs the Trump administration has threatened. He also listed other issues of disagreement, including dairy market access and dispute settlement panels.

“I don’t like playing chicken with the future of the Canadian economy,” MacNaughton said.