As round four of the NAFTA talks comes to a close, you have to wonder why it took the U.S. this long to finally come around to the stiff demands laid out in round four.

From auto to dairy, the U.S. provided a list of demands that Canada and Mexico have described as unacceptable, and, according to the Dairy Farmers of Canada, “outrageous.”

Whether it is the U.S. content rules, the five-year sunset clause, or the end of supply management, Canada and Mexico are naturally questioning whether the U.S. even wants a deal.

U.S. President Donald Trump has been adamant that he wants to make trade deals fair for America. He wants trade deals where America is the winner. Since the election campaign, Trump has been hasty to dump on the multilateral deal. He speaks often about the benefits of bilateral deals, reasoning that they provide a clearer context for enforcement of rules.

President Trump loves fights, opponents and nicknames. A time will probably come where Prime Minister Trudeau will have a nickname, just like Rocket Man and Crooked Hilary.

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But it’s not just President Trump that likes bilateral deals. So do Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade representative Robert Lighthizer. Lighthizer has said that he believes the size of the U.S. market is the driving force behind countries agreeing to U.S. demands, and that bilateral agreements are where the U.S. can better exert this leverage.

Some people who are naturally positive want to believe that this is how negotiation works — that making massive requests to get less is “the art of the deal.”

The other scenario (and my opinion) is that the U.S. is driving a wedge between the three parties, as they strategically intended.

They want out of this trade deal.

Trump plays to all crowds. His support base adores his threats, demands and when he creates enemies for his cause and the America-first mantra. His hardline demands are meant to offend the opposite negotiators, daring the Canadians and Mexicans to walk from the table so he gets what he wants — the death of NAFTA.

Canada and Mexico must not fall for this tactic. The countries need to stay at the negotiating table, quietly firm, forcing the U.S. to choose to truly negotiate or pull the plug.

As Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland said on Tuesday:

“To succeed, we need to work together in negotiations toward a common goal, for the mutual benefit of all participants.”

The trouble is that the U.S. is not negotiating, but demanding, making it difficult for Canada and Mexico to give up much ground.

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