NAFTA deadline could be extended beyond March
After learning that US President Donald Trump is open to extending talks to modernize NAFTA, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland says Canada is prepared to spend as much time as it takes to make a good deal.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump said “a lot of things are hard to negotiate” as the Mexican presidential election this summer nears.
Other Trump comments to the WSJ included: “We’re moving along nicely,” “There’s no rush,” “I’m leaving it a little flexible,” “We have a chance of making a reasonable deal,” “We’ve made a lot of headway.”
However, Trump did repeat his threat to bail from NAFTA if he can’t get a better deal, but representatives from Canadian and Mexican governments as well as NAFTA-supporters in the US see the comments as positive overall.
“I thought that was a sensible suggestion from the President. I think all of us are mindful of the Mexican elections,” Reuters reports Freeland said on the sidelines of a Cabinet retreat.
Freeland says Canada believes it is not helpful to impose artificial deadlines on delicate NAFTA discussions.
Ildefonso Guajardo, Mexico’s Economy Minister, echoed Freeland’s comments in El Pais, a newspaper. Guajardo says a notice of termination does not appear imminent and he says he hopes for a quick, successful resolution to talks which should calm markets.
In the US, Robert Holleyman, former senior trade official in the Obama administration and Dan Ujczo, Canada-US trade lawyer agree that pressure from NAFTA supporters, especially from farming states that supported Trump, is having some impact.
According to CTV News, these farmers say they have been hit by drops in commodities prices and are hoping that President Trump will not compound their problems by threatening exports.
At the recent farm-lobby conference, Trump made more muted comments about NAFTA. Ujczo says he was at the conference and left soon after for a business trip to Canada. He says he was struck by the urgent tone of Canadian news reporting that suggested the US would leave the decades-old agreement.
“I was stunned,” Ujczo told CTV News.
“You come up here (to Canada) and the situation’s completely escalated. … (But) I’m more optimistic now.”
Ujczo says the upcoming negotiations in Montreal are critical and progress is imperative. He believes that as long as there is some movement towards a deal, its less likely the president will pull the pin on NAFTA.
Trump says he’d like to use Article 2205, which allows a country to leave after six months’ notice, as a bargaining tool. Ujczo says the lobbying effort in the US may be helping convince Trump that Article 2205 is less a negotiating tool and more a “Pandora’s box”, that once opened, can impact markets negatively and risk termination of the deal.
Ujczo says he doesn’t believe Trump truly wants to cancel NAFTA.
Canadian Press photo by Sean Kilpatrick.