U.S. starts de­liv­er­ing bomb­shell de­mands

Penticton Herald - - CANADA -

PEN­TAGON, United States — The NAFTA talks have now en­tered their most dif­fi­cult phase with the United States be­gin­ning to drop its bomb­shell pro­pos­als on the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble at a just-be­gun fourth round out­side Wash­ing­ton.

U.S. of­fi­cials had fore­shad­owed that this week-long round would be where the most con­tentious dis­cus­sions opened, and that is com­ing to fruition, with the Amer­i­can side lev­el­ling one de­mand deemed a non­starter — and pre­par­ing to de­liver an­other one.

The just-de­liv­ered de­mand would cre­ate a so-called ter­mi­na­tion clause. It would end NAFTA af­ter five years, un­less its mem­ber coun­tries ex­plic­itly opted to re­new it. That pro­posal was de­liv­ered late Wed­nes­day night.

That comes af­ter the U.S. pro­posed far stricter Buy Amer­i­can rules at the last ne­go­ti­at­ing round, and in the leadup to one of the most im­por­tant pro­pos­als of the en­tire ne­go­ti­a­tion: on rules for auto parts, which could come as early as to­day.

“More con­tentious is­sues will be com­ing up very shortly,” U.S. Com­merce Sec­re­tary Wil­bur Ross said dur­ing a panel dis­cus­sion this week at the Den­tons law firm.

“So far, the talks have mainly done ba­sic back­ground things. Kind of what I would call boil­er­plate things. Rel­a­tively easy is­sues.”

The other NAFTA coun­tries say they’re le­git­i­mately baf­fled by where the U.S. is headed.

Sources say oth­ers are try­ing to fig­ure out what this hard­line ap­proach sig­nals from the U.S. — open­ing po­si­tions that will be flex­i­ble with some bar­gain­ing; hard de­mands; or a de­sire to poi­son the talks, let them col­lapse, and sim­ply do away with NAFTA.

Some al­lies of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump pre­dict the deal will be suc­cess­fully rene­go­ti­ated.

Newt Gin­grich said this week he sees lit­tle ap­petite within the U.S. cabi­net for the type of tur­moil can­celling NAFTA might cause. He said Trump’s team is filled with free­traders, who sim­ply be­lieve the U.S. needs tougher deals.

Ross him­self said he doesn’t an­tic­i­pate a NAFTA col­lapse, though he added a caveat: “We don’t hope it will (end), we don’t de­sire that it will, we don’t be­lieve that it will, but it is at least a con­cep­tual pos­si­bil­ity.”

Canada and Mex­ico are ve­he­mently op­posed to the five-year ter­mi­na­tion idea, see­ing it as a desta­bi­liz­ing in­vest­ment-killer and an un­ac­cept­able red line. Canada’s am­bas­sador to the U.S. has joked that if the same idea were used in mar­riage li­cences, the di­vorce rate would sky­rocket.

But Ross con­firmed it as the U.S. po­si­tion, and shrugged off the talk of red lines.

“Yes, that’s our pro­posal,” Ross said, adding dis­mis­sively: “Red lines, blue lines, green lines, pur­ple lines — those are just colours in a rain­bow . . . . It’s a big, com­pli­cated ne­go­ti­a­tion, and the key is hav­ing an over­all pack­age that works (at the end).”

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