MONTREAL — Quebec’s chief NAFTA negotiator says U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will have the final say as to whether Canada’s counter proposals have any traction.
That means it will be several days before Canada learns whether it has done enough to save the talks.
Canadian negotiators have countered so-called U.S. poison pills with proposals for higher continental content requirements for automobiles, and on NAFTA’s dispute resolution mechanisms and contentious five-year sunset clause.
Canada tabled its proposals this week at the pivotal sixth round of talks, continuing today in Montreal.
Lighthizer doesn’t arrive in Montreal until Sunday, and is to close the talks at joint press conference on Monday with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and their Mexican counterpart, Ildefonso Guajardo.
Raymond Bachand, Quebec’s chief negotiator and former provincial finance minister, says the Canadian team isn’t expecting any formal response from their American counterparts until they get their marching orders from Lighthizer.
“We’re going to see Monday how it goes,” Bachand said as business leaders from all three countries gathered in Montreal to discuss the deal.
“I think we have to wait for Ambassador Lighthizer to be here because obviously the U.S. negotiators need a mandate. And these were new ideas so they have to caucus together.”
Freeland discussed Canada’s counter-proposals with Lighthizer in Davos, Switzerland on Thursday. Canadian officials said he “didn’t shoot anything down” but remained otherwise non-committal.
U.S. President Donald Trump further muddied the waters on the key question of whether he will activate NAFTA’s six-month withdrawal clause during an interview with CNBC.
“NAFTA’s a horrible deal. We’re renegotiating it. I may terminate NAFTA, I may not. We’ll see what happens,” Trump said Thursday.
When pressed, he replied: “Will it be renegotiated? We’re tying right now with Bob Lighthizer and the whole group. I think we have a good chance, but we’ll see what happens.”
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press