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U.S., Mexico meeting in Washington to talk about NAFTA, but Canada is left out

By Andy Blatchford/The Canadian Press/July 31, 2018

Canada’s continental partners are simply trying to work through difficult bilateral sticking points on NAFTA, federal insiders insist, even as the Canadian government appears to have been left out of ongoing talks between the United States and Mexico.

A senior government official said Tuesday that the U.S. and Mexico’s return to the table to sort out their differences is a positive sign for the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement – even if Canada wasn’t invited to take part.

Top Canadian negotiators are expected to rejoin NAFTA talks by mid-August although no meetings have been scheduled yet, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the matter in public.

U.S. trade czar Robert Lighthizer and Mexican Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo will meet again this week in Washington to discuss NAFTA, according to media reports. They also met face to face last week.

Trade talks between the two countries have intensified since the recent election win by Mexico’s president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has assigned his own experts to work with officials from the outgoing administration on pursuing an updated NAFTA before he takes office Dec. 1.

American optimism about a new NAFTA deal has also been heating up. In recent days, the Trump administration has signalled an agreement could be reached on the pact by the end of August.

So far, however, Canadian negotiators have yet to participate in the summertime, high-level push towards an update to the three-country deal.

The Canadian official rejected the idea Ottawa has been frozen out of the talks and argued it’s not unusual for two of the NAFTA partners to hold discussions on bilateral issues without the third partner in the room. They said Canada is confident NAFTA will remain a trilateral deal, even though U.S. Donald Trump has threatened in the past to ditch it for one-on-one trade agreements.

The official also noted that the U.S. and Mexico have issues to figure out between themselves, such as their differences on labour changes in the auto sector, textiles and seasonal fruits.

Another senior Canadian source said Tuesday they’re “not that fazed at all” by the U.S.-Mexican meetings on NAFTA.

“I think the fact they’re able to carve out some space to pick up on the conversation from where it was at, without knowing the outcomes, that at least in and of itself isn’t a bad thing.”

NAFTA’s renegotiation has mostly been stalled since May, when the three sides were unable to strike a deal before the Mexican presidential election campaign. Lopez Obrador won the July 1 vote.

One of the Canadian officials said Ottawa has seen a meaningful change in approach from the U.S. on NAFTA – externally and internally – over the last seven days.

On Monday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said he thought there was a good chance American negotiators were on a “pretty rapid track” when it comes to NAFTA talks with Mexico, noting that Washington has fewer issues with Canada in the talks.

“Mexico is, intellectually, the more complicated of the two; so if we can solve that, we should be able to fill in with Canada,” Ross said during an appearance at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Indo-Pacific Business Forum.

His comments followed other optimistic remarks from senior Trump officials, including Lighthizer.

Last week, he told a U.S. Senate panel that an updated NAFTA deal to be concluded by the end of August.

“That’s not an unreasonable time frame if everybody wants to get it done,” Lighthizer said.

“My hope is that we will before very long have a conclusion with respect to Mexico and that as a result of that, Canada will come in and begin to compromise. I don’t believe that they have compromised in the same way the United States or Mexico has.”

Ahead of last week’s NAFTA talks between Lighthizer and Guajardo, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and International Trade Minister Jim Carr met with Lopez Obrador in Mexico City.

Following the meeting, Freeland said she was hopeful NAFTA negotiations could hit a higher gear.

And in Canada

 

Belgian club board member resigns after Canadian Nationalist Party meeting

Canadian Press/July 30, 2018

A cultural club in Winnipeg said one of its board members has agreed to resign after it hosted a meeting for the Canadian Nationalist Party over the weekend.

The Belgian Club said in a statement posted to Facebook that a junior member of its staff took the booking without fully realizing what the party represents.

The Canadian Nationalist Party’s website touts a “Canada first” approach, which includes reducing immigration, deporting asylum seekers and banning burqas. In the group’s 21-point plan posted on their website they demand the end of the “forced displacement of the founding Canadian People,” which are categorized as having European ancestry.

The group is not a registered political party on the Elections Canada website.

The Canadian Nationalist Party booked the club for the meeting, which included an appearance by its leader Travis Patron, for Saturday afternoon, and local activists arranged a counter protest.

Omar Kinnarath, an organizer with Fascist Free Treaty 1, said protesters entered the club and there was a heated discussion with a handful of people attending the meeting.

A woman, who was identified as the treasurer for the Belgian Club, was captured on video, later posted online, explaining she doesn’t follow nationalism. But she goes on to add that you can’t get a job if you are not a visible minority.

“I recently lost my job after 15 years, and any job that you apply for, guess what, guess what, you have to be a visible minority or this or this or this,” the woman said.

Police were called to the club and said there were no arrests.

The club’s statement said during Saturday’s protest one of its board members expressed her personal views “that do not represent the history, heritage or values of the Belgium Club,” and she was asked to resign.

“In fact, the Belgium Club is filled with members whose fathers and grandfathers fought and died in both the First and Second World Wars fighting against fascism and the Nazis to defend democracy and human rights both abroad and here in our own country,” the statement said.

A local Royal Canadian Legion branch is in the same building as the club but was not associated with the event.

Kinnarath said it doesn’t do enough to address the internal issues that would have allowed the Canadian Nationalist Party a platform at the club in the first place.

“We wish that they take further steps in educating their members, their staff and their board about the important of multiculturalism and how multiculturalism is Canadian identity,” he said.

The Canadian Nationalist Party did not respond to an interview request but in a post on its website addressed the altercation saying the Belgian Club was “short-sighted” in asking its board member to resign.

“We consider the event a success and the antics of our protestors as a display that threatens the freedom of expression, right to assemble, and ability of third-party organizations to retain their non-partison (sic) status when hosting political parties,” the statement said.

Canada to join Mexico, Japan, South Korea and the EU in auto tariff talks
Deputy international trade minister Timothy Sargent to attend meeting in Geneva

The Canadian Press/July 29, 2018

Canada will join Mexico and European and Asian auto-producing countries this week to plot strategy ahead of the potential imposition of tariffs on vehicles and auto parts exported to the United States.

Japan and the European Union organized the meeting for Tuesday in Geneva, where vice and deputy ministers from Canada, the EU, Japan and South Korea will gather to talk about the punishing levies threatened by U.S. President Donald Trump.

A Canadian government official told The Canadian Press on Sunday that deputy international trade minister Timothy Sargent would attend the meeting on Canada's behalf.

Trump has threatened to impose tariffs under Section 232 of the decades-old U.S. Trade Expansion Act. The legislation allows the president, under certain circumstances, to impose duties recommended by his commerce secretary under the notion that the goods being imported are a threat to national security.

Just as it did after the U.S. imposed hefty tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada and other nations, the Trudeau government has said it would respond to auto tariffs with its own countermeasures.

The Canadian Automobile Dealers Association has warned that "dollar-for-dollar" retaliatory levies would have a much more significant effect on Canada's auto sector than counter-tariffs on aluminum and steel.