- The sixth round of talks to renegotiate NAFTA concluded Monday, albeit with "slow progress" and core issues still looming large, according to the United States Trade Representative (USTR).
- Still, USTR Robert Lighthizer reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the trade block, saying it was an "important agreement," while publicly refuting a few counter-proposals on the rules of origin and most-preferential nation status.
- Lighthizer added he hopes the talks will accelerate soon, as the negotiators head to Mexico City for a seventh round of negotiations from Feb. 26 to March 6.
The remarks concluding the sixth round of NAFTA talks are a breath of fresh air for stakeholders, as the negotiators — while still at odds on core issues — once again sound committed to reaching a deal or compromise.
At least this time, Lighthizer floated the words "slow progress" rather than saying he was "disappointed" by a lack of headway in talks. That said, he openly fired back at Canada for including a proposal that could yield better terms of trade with a country like China than the United States, and for recent anti-U.S. trade cases.
"It does make one wonder if all parties are truly committed to mutually beneficial trade," said the USTR.
Regardless of the bits of animosity, such rhetoric shows the U.S. is feeling the pressure and strategy is beginning to change, just in time for the final rounds of talks.
This shift in tone mirrors the U.S. president's own tone in Davos, where he recognized "America first is not America alone." Perhaps Mexico and Canada's successful participation in CPTPP (the new TPP without the U.S.) helped influence this shift.
Still, only one chapter — anti-corruption — was finished during this round, but it sounds like the negotiators actively considered solutions to some of the problems that threatened to kill the deal altogether.
Commenting on Canada's proposed compromise on rules of origin, Lighthizer said, "When analyzed, may actually lead to less regional content than we have now and fewer jobs in the United States, Canada and likely Mexico. So this is the opposite of what we are trying to do."
It's a start, and it suggests a new deal could be within reach in 2018.
"We have started to really make progress on the bread and butter trade issues," said Minister Chrystia Freeland when asked if she thought they would finish by December. "The Canadian position is, we want a good deal, and we are going to do the work that it takes to get a good deal. We'd like to get this done as quickly as possible, and we're going to be working hard to do that."