U.S.-Canada NAFTA deal unlikely to be reached this week: Report
NAFTA talks are picking up again but a deal is unlikely to be reached this week, four people familiar with talks said -- increasing the odds the latest deadline will be missed amid Donald Trump’s threat to freeze Canada out.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland will meet Wednesday in Washington, their first in-person session in eight days. The two countries remain at odds on core issues, including dairy and dispute panels.
A deal is unlikely this week without major movement, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity as negotiations continue. The talks could extend into next week, and several deadlines have been missed so far. A Canadian official had said Thursday was the likely deadline to reach a deal in order to convert it to legal text by the end of the month.
The countries have been pressuring each other on the eve of the meeting. Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, a key Republican lawmaker, warned in a statement Tuesday that congressional patience with Canada was wearing thin. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at the same time, continues to say he would rather see no deal reached than be forced to accept a bad one.
A preliminary trade deal was reached with Mexico in August. Barring an accord with Canada, Trump has threatened to proceed with only Mexico, though Scalise stopped short of saying Congress would go along with that.
“It is growing increasingly unlikely that you can get text to the Congress by Sept. 30,” said Jennifer Hillman, a professor of law at Georgetown University and former general counsel to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. It’s even more unlikely to proceed quickly with only Mexico, she said. “Canada does still have some leverage.”
Scalise, the House majority whip, said if Canada does not “cooperate” then Congress would “consider options about how best to move forward,” though he didn’t specify how.
“There is a growing frustration with many in Congress regarding Canada’s negotiating tactics,” Scalise said in the statement. “While we would all like to see Canada remain part of this three-country coalition, there is not an unlimited amount of time for it to be part of this new agreement.”
There have also been numerous calls in the U.S. to include Canada. In a joint letter dated Monday, three major U.S. business groups -- the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers -- said it would be “unacceptable to sideline Canada,” the top buyer of U.S. goods. Prominent members of Congress have also said that Canada should be part of any new North American trade agreement.
“I think that if all three countries are in and all signed up, there’s a much higher likelihood this gets passed,” Bruce Heyman, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada under Barack Obama, said Tuesday on BNN Bloomberg television. There’s no sign a Mexico-only deal can be passed by Congress, he said, while shrugging off the significance of Scalise’s statement. “I think Steve Scalise is carrying water for USTR,” he said.
Lower-level officials have negotiated in recent days, Freeland told reporters Tuesday in Ottawa. She underscored Canada’s insistence that it won’t bow to all demands. “Any negotiator who goes into a negotiation believing that he or she must get a deal at any price -- that is a negotiator who will be forced to pay the maximum price for that deal,” she said. “No deal is better than a bad deal.”