U.S. be­gins lob­bing NAFTA bomb­shells

The Welland Tribune - - NATIONAL - ALEXAN­DER PANETTA

PEN­TAGON, United States — The NAFTA ne­go­ti­a­tions 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 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. The clause would end NAFTA af­ter five years, if its mem­ber coun­tries fail to ex­plic­itly 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 Fri­day.

U.S. Com­merce Sec­re­tary Wil­bur Ross con­firmed the five-year ter­mi­na­tion idea. He shrugged off the fact that other NAFTA coun­tries are ve­he­mently op­posed to it, see­ing it as a desta­bi­liz­ing in­vest­ment-killer and un­ac­cept­able red line.

“Yes, that’s our pro­posal,” Ross said dur­ing a panel dis­cus­sion Wed­nes­day at the Den­tons law firm. “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).”

The next big drop could oc­cur Fri­day.

That’s when the group han­dling rules for auto parts meets for the first time in this round, and it’s ex­pected the U.S. is pre­par­ing to level de­mands viewed as non-starters by Canada, Mex­ico, and the auto in­dus­try.

One re­port said the planned de­mand would re­quire 85 per cent of a car’s parts to come from North Amer­ica, and half of them to come from the U.S. That in­dus­try says many of th­ese com­po­nents sim­ply aren’t made on the con­ti­nent, and warn that if the rules get too oner­ous they might just stop work­ing within NAFTA and start pay­ing tar­iffs.

Again, Ross con­firmed that U.S. pol­icy is headed in that di­rec­tion, and shrugged off the con­cerns: “I think you’ll find the car com­pa­nies will adapt them­selves to it,” he said.

The main thing other coun­tries are try­ing to fig­ure out about this hard­line ap­proach from the U.S. is what it sig­nals: Flex­i­ble open­ing po­si­tions that will change with time, in­flex­i­ble de­mands, or a de­sire to poi­son the talks and do away with NAFTA en­tirely.

Of­fi­cials in Canada say they’re le­git­i­mately baf­fled by where the U.S. is headed.

As for Mex­ico, the de­mands be­ing lev­elled cross sev­eral of the six so­called red lines laid out in that coun­try’s Sen­ate, which says it would refuse any deal that in­cludes a ter­mi­na­tion clause, a U.S. auto con­tent re­quire­ment or the end of the Chap­ter 19 dis­pute-res­o­lu­tion sys­tem.

An of­fi­cial in one of those two coun­tries says it’s im­por­tant to keep ne­go­ti­at­ing calmly.

“We’re ex­pect­ing some con­tentious pro­pos­als this week,” he said. “Hav­ing said that, no one should lose sight of the fact you have three teams of ne­go­tia­tors work­ing to make progress on the deal and they are mak­ing progress.”

U.S. Com­merce Sec­re­tary Wil­bur Ross

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