The executive director of a pro-NAFTA business association says he is “quite concerned” that the trilateral free trade pact will not be renewed. Brian Pomper, who heads Action for Trade, told The Daily Caller on Friday that although he “hopes to see the talks reach a successful conclusion, I am quite concerned that it’s not going to happen.”
And the clock is ticking, with the renegotiation scheduled to wrap-up in March 2018.
Pomper says he takes some solace from the fact that NAFTA has not exactly been a priority for either the U.S. government or the media. “We’ve been focused on tax, not trade for quite some time now,” he says, predicting, “but expect a lot of activity on trade in the next few months.”
Pomper isn’t blaming the Trump administration for the rickety state of the NAFTA negotiations. In the past few weeks, the most vocal malcontent in the process has been Canada, with senior government officials suggesting not just differences but insurmountable obstacles between the Trump administation and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government.
David MacNaughton, Canadian ambassador to the U.S., recently dismissed Vice President Mike Pence’s cry of “win, win, win” as actually being “take, take, take.” Trudeau’s insistence that NAFTA include provisions to fight climate change, ensure gender equality and protect labor rights isn’t helping either.
But Pomper believes Canada could learn to give a little because from the feedback he’s getting, their negotiating team is offering a wall of opposition to many U.S. proposals and doesn’t even appear at times to be engaged in the negotiating process.
“Canadians are not terribly engaged in the negotiations. Not that they’re not interested but there’s not a lot of negotiating going on. A lot of Canadians are essentially saying, ‘no we can’t agree to that, we can’t negotiate on these terms,’” he says.
The Mexicans, on the other hand, “have been willing at least to have counter-offers…”
Althougn Pomper acknowledges it is “all speculation,” he says the negotiations might produce not just irony but shock and surprise with “the possibility that actually the United States and Mexico could cut their own bilateral deal.”
Pomper says despite all the criticism of Mexico’s lower standard of living and cheap labor, most of the “real business issues” are with Canada — and these are a wide-ranging assortment of irritants that include softwood lumber, the aviation sector and dairy products.
“Could we wind up with a U.S.-Mexico deal and wouldn’t that be ironic?” Pomper asks.
If the talks collapse entirely, could we also wind up the old bilateral free trade agreement between the U.S. and Canada? Pomper says that deal was “suspended” when NAFTA superseded it and if both the U.S. and Canada agree, it could be a viable alternative to closing the North American trade doors completely.