Canada rejecting aggressive demands, while refusing to walk away from NAFTA talks

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland speaking to media at the end of the third round of NAFTA talks in Ottawa.

The tone surrounding NAFTA negotiations certainly turned during the fourth round of talks, which wrapped up Tuesday in Arlington, Virginia. Pessimistic or gloomy would be appropriate descriptors, definitely out of tune, even if you’re optimistic.

After three rounds with little progress, U.S. negotiators came out swinging, tabling multiple ‘non-starters’ in the eyes of Canada and Mexico over the last week. Along with a five-year sunset clause and gutting of current dispute resolution structures, the list of aggressive demands included a U.S. proposal to end Canada’s supply management system for dairy, eggs and poultry by phasing out tariffs over 10 years.

While the tone has shifted, the volume has also been turned up on voices openly questioning the Trump Administration’s commitment to completing a new deal.

Kelsey Johnson, agriculture reporter for iPolitics (source: Twitter)

“The question coming out of this now is ‘do the Americans want a NAFTA?’ They’ve tabled so many non-starters, dairy just being one of them,” notes Kelsey Johnson (@johnsonthree), Ottawa-based agriculture reporter with iPolitics, in the interview below.

Despite the U.S. aggression in the negotiating room, Canada doesn’t want to be the first party to stand up and walk away from the table.

“If they walk away, that’s seen as a victory for the Trump Administration, which they don’t want to give them. So they’re going to sit there and grin and bear it,” she says. “Canada and Mexico will continue to spin this as ‘we knew this was going to be hard,’ and it will be up to the Americans to explain why they’re doing this.”

Update: Citing wide differences in negotiating positions, the ministers for all three countries have agreed to delay the fifth round of talks, pushing them back to November 17-21 in Mexico City. Rather than holding the sixth and seventh rounds before the end of 2017, additional negotiating rounds will be held in the first quarter of 2018, said the ministers.

Johnson joined us on Tuesday to discuss the U.S. dairy proposal, Canada’s response, and where NAFTA talks are headed coming out of round four — listen to her insight, here:

Related: U.S. expected to come out swinging in round four of NAFTA talks


Kelvin Heppner

Kelvin Heppner is a field editor and radio host for RealAgriculture and RealAg Radio. He's been reporting on agriculture on the prairies and across Canada since 2008(ish). He farms with his family near Altona, Manitoba, and is on Twitter at @realag_kelvin. @realag_kelvin


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