Challenging NAFTA talks extended to 2018

Canada not budging on supply management protection

By Stewart Grant

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer confirmed this week that NAFTA trade talks between the U.S., Canada and Mexico will not be completed by year end as previously hoped, with the three countries far apart on many negotiating positions.

American proposals during NAFTA talks have led some observers to question whether USA truly wants to make a deal at all with its neighbouring countries.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland expressed frustration with the American proposals thus far: “We’ve…seen a series of unconventional proposals in critical areas of the negotiations that make our work much more challenging. We have seen proposals that would turn back the clock on 23 years of predictability, openness and collaboration under NAFTA. In some cases these proposals run counter to WTO rules. This is troubling.”

Canada’s supply management system protecting key industries such as dairy and poultry have predictably come under fire by Americans. Reports suggest that the U.S. proposals have requested increasingly higher levels of market access into Canada each year going forward, with total duty-free and quota-free trade occurring within 10 years.

Dairy Farmers of Canada spokesperson Isabelle Bouchard could not comment on specific details of the negotiations due to confidentiality reasons but had the following general statement: “We are not surprised by the U.S. [agriculture-related] demands, they are in line with the demands they have made in other sectors. Outrageous.”

Alberta’s agriculture and forestry minister Oneil Carlier also spoke with reporters this week on the subject of American negotiators wanting to end Canada’s supply management system: “It’s just another shot across the bow they’ve done with other sectors as well, putting something on the table we cannot accept…the [supply management] system is working very well…it makes for a safe and reliable supply of those products to our consumers.”

Agriculture is not alone in terms of NAFTA sectors that the Americans are challenging. Automotive parts is also a key point of concern, as is the five-year termination clause of NAFTA that the U.S. has proposed.

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