- The second round of talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement ended with no deals made, but firm progress and a promise of results to come is expected during the third round of negotiations, ministers from the U.S., Canada and Mexico said during a press conference.
- U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said at least twelve chapters were discussed, and various unified term sheets were created that would help negotiators debate specific points in the text during the next round, which will take place in Ottawa from Sep. 23 to 27.
- More than 20 working groups met to discuss key chapters and positions, but various reports citing anonymous sources note talks on the toughest issues — dispute resolution, rules of origin and labor — had made little progress.
It's necessary to separate interests from rhetoric when evaluating each round's success, and the top three ministers have yet to break a promise when it comes to NAFTA news.
The various news articles circulating the internet are based on three sources of information: the ministers' official statements, negotiating stakeholders such as labor associations who were present at the talks, and negotiators' unofficial comments on their interests within the negotiation.
Each country's top minister seeks to reveal just enough information to paint their nation's interests as sticking strong during the negotiation. It is no surprise, then, that joint statements focus on the positive aspects of the talks and ministers switch their language, depending on the audience they want to reach.
Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland, for example, spoke of Canada's move to remove a visa requirement for Mexicans in Spanish, of the difficulty of the talks in French and the economic benefits of NAFTA in English. Or, that USTR Lighthizer took a light jab at the need for stronger labor conditions in Mexico by citing the need to defend the middle class "in all three countries," and Mexico's Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo responded with a comment about each country's labor rights in English, despite addressing a press pool in Mexico City.
Such exchanges belie each negotiator's chief responsibility to publicly represent their country, regardless of the conversations going on behind closed doors during each round. Industry stakeholders are similarly beholden, as it is in labor unions or trade associations' best interest to claim little progress so their constituents and foreign counterparts see their interests.
While all should treat President Trump's threats to withdraw from NAFTA seriously, as well as accept Mexico's threats to walk out of the negotiating room if he does, it all comes with a grain of salt. Rhetoric will prevail during these seven rounds of negotiations, it's part of the process. What's most important, then, is the promises that are made: the accelerated timeline continues, and we will see fresh deals after Round 3. Once the negotiators start breaking their official promises, it's time to start worrying.