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Limited progress made in NAFTA because talks moving ‘too fast,’ Canada’s chief negotiator says

OTTAWA—Canada’s chief NAFTA negotiator says only limited progress has been made in revamping the continental trade pact.

Steve Verheul says that’s because the talks are moving “a bit too fast.”

The seventh round of NAFTA talks is set to begin later this month in Mexico City with substantial differences remaining on autos, a sunset clause and an investor-dispute resolution mechanism, and U.S. demands for greater market access to Canada’s protected dairy industry.

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Lighthizer also called Canada’s wide-ranging complaint to the World Trade Organization a “massive attack” against U.S. trading practices.

However, Canada had concerns of its own with what the American negotiators were putting on the table, Verheul said — notably a Buy American component that would limit how many public contracts can be won by its free-trade neighbours.

The U.S. has proposed limiting Canada and Mexico to one dollar of contracts for every dollar in contracts granted by Canada and Mexico to American companies, an idea Canada and Mexico alike have branded a non-starter.

The Buy American proposal may well be the worst ever put forth in a trade negotiation, said Verheul, who noted that U.S. negotiators seem to be hamstrung at the table by White House expectations.

He also said the worst possible outcome would be for the United States to go it alone — a scenario that Verheul warned would weaken North America, allowing other countries and regions to take easy advantage.

Canada will stay at the negotiating table for as long as it takes, Verheul said. But it’s impossible to predict the next move of a notoriously unpredictable president, he warned — a move that could include a NAFTA pullout.

Earlier this week, U.S. President Donald Trump complained about Canadian trade practices and threatened an undefined international tax, reviving fears of new American import penalties — a fear the White House has since played down.

U.S. President Donald Trump said trade deals are stacked against the United States saying that he can’t continue to let other countries “rob us blind.” Trump singled out China, Japan South Korea and NAFTA members Canada and Mexico. (The Associated Press)

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