All posts by Don Newman

Newman on NAFTA: Why Canada Won’t Walk Away from the Negotiating Table

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Ensight’s Don Newman on NAFTA talks resuming in Mexico City this weekend, why the Ministers won’t be there and when the next make or break period is (Hint – January).

NAFTA negotiations are resuming this weekend in Mexico City.

This time the negotiators from Canada, the United States, and Mexico will be on their own. Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freeland, and her counterparts from the United States and Mexican cabinets won’t be there. Not enough progress is expected to be made that their attendance will be required.

Not only that, the cabinet ministers won’t be attending the next negotiating session either. Breaking with the usual sequences of rotating the meetings between the three countries’ capitals, only the negotiating teams will meet again next month in Washington, although it should be Canada’s turn to host the next meeting in Ottawa.

However, Ottawa will be the site of a meeting in January, where the Ministers as well as the ‎negotiators will be present. That meeting could be make or break for NAFTA. Either a new deal will be taking shape or the differences will be too wide to bridge.

Between now and then, the Canadian Government and, by extension, all Canadians will have some hard thinking to do.

We have already decided to stay at the negotiating table as long as the Americans are there. Even though at least three deal breakers were put on the table by the U.S., we are not going to give President Donald Trump ‎an easy out and walk away from the talks.

Instead, if he gives notice that he wants to terminate NAFTA, and provides the U.S. Congress with the six months’ notice required, we and the Mexicans will still be at the table. The termination notice may well be a negotiating ploy, but it will also trigger a constitutional argument in Washington over whether Trump has the unilateral authority to end the deal.

As with everything Trump does, that will be full of controversy and ‎clamour in Washington. In Ottawa, more serious thinking has likely already started and will be continuing.

What is increasingly clear is that the North American Free Trade Agreement that emerges from these negotiating sessions is not going to be a new and improved version of the one in effect for almost a quarter century.

The Trump administration is only going to sign a new agreement that tilts the trade playing field to the Americans’ advantage. The only real question is how much.

In 1987 when negotiations on the Canada-U.S. Free Trade deal came down to the deadline, then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney could have threatened to walk away without an agreement. If he had, and NAFTA had not happened, the status quo would have been preserved, nothing would have changed. In effect, no one would have noticed.

But that is not the case now. For the past twenty-five years the Canadian economy has been shaped around NAFTA.

If NAFTA were to go away, one of the underpinnings of our economy would go with it. This time the status quo would disappear. The impact would be profound. 

That is why the Government is going to have to see what kind of a free trade agreement is left when the negotiations are over. It may well be that some of NAFTA is better than no NAFTA at all. Or it may not be.

And that is why the next two and a half months are so important.

Don Newman is Senior Counsel at Ensight, a Member of the Order of Canada, and a life-member and past president of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.

Mid-Term Downturn: Newman

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If the first year for a new government is a honeymoon, the second is a time to launch major initiatives, and the third is where everything begins to fall apart, then, so far, the Justin Trudeau government is closely following the script.

As it passes the second anniversary of its election and begins year three of a four- year mandate, the government that promised “sunny ways”, a new way of doing things, and a more equitable Canada is finding the agenda it ran on more difficult to enact and more controversial to pursue.

Compounding the natural third-year problems of any government, just as the difficulties hit the Liberals they lost their comfortable status of having no real opposition.

The Conservatives chose Andrew Scheer as their new leader last June after multiple ballots winnowed through a large field of candidates. In October, Jagmeet Singh needed only one ballot to dispatch three other candidates to become the leader of the New Democrats.

Singh does not have a seat in Parliament and doesn’t plan to seek one until the next general election in October 2019. Whether that is an effective strategy remains to be seen, but as of now the NDP is re-energized by its unconventional choice of leader.

More importantly, as the Official Opposition, the Conservatives are set and planning for the next election. With a caucus of almost 100 members, many of them former cabinet ministers, and many MPS with more political and House of Commons experience than the Liberals across the aisle, the Conservatives are set to be an effective Opposition. That is true, even if the as-yet-unproven Scheer proves to be no more than adequate as leader.

The problem is further compounded by timing. Just as the opposition parties are getting their acts together, issues and events are also coming together.

Almost immediately is the problem of NAFTA. Will the trade agreement among Canada, the United States and Mexico that has been a cornerstone of this country’s prosperity be renewed, or as President Trump has threatened, be cancelled by the Americans?
If the deal is cancelled, the government will have to have a Plan B ready quickly, or there will be politically and economically damaging consequences.

And after trying to have it both ways at the same time, the Liberals are going to have the square the circle on environment and energy development. The twinning of the Kinder-Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline from Alberta to Vancouver has been approved, but construction has yet to begin and legal and environmental challenges threaten to hold it up indefinitely.

The unofficial quid pro quo for new pipelines is putting a price on carbon. In 2016 the Liberal government and every province but Saskatchewan agreed to put a price on carbon beginning in 2018. The price on carbon, the so-called carbon tax, is to go into effect next year and reach $50-a-tonne by 2022. So far, no sign of a shovel in the ground to build a new pipeline.

This contradiction will test the government’s mettle the coming months, particularly Energy Minister Jim Carr and Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna. Carr has been a competent pair of steady hands in the first two years of the Liberal government. McKenna hit the headlines early with the signing of the Paris Accord on climate change and the agreement for a carbon tax. Now, both will have to be at their best in the next two years to bring their contradictory constituencies to an agreement. It won’t be easy.

And the government will have to get the way it communicates its messages under control. The disastrous roll-out this past summer of the government’s small corporations tax changes shows just how weak strategic communications actually is in the Trudeau government. Unless addressed, this fault could be fatal.

All of this does not mean the Liberals situation is hopeless. Far from it. Justin Trudeau is the most dynamic party leader, and the Liberals are firmly rooted in the big cities and urban communities across the country where most of the population lives.

What it does mean is that the Liberal government must learn the lessons of the past two years, sharpen its focus to concentrate on the things that must be done rather things it would like to do, and regain control of the political narrative.

And one other thing. It must reach out to the people who can help it do those things—even if those people were born before 1965.
If those deficiencies are addressed in what will likely be a stormy third year in office, then Trudeau and his Liberals may look forward to a rosier fourth year.

That’s the year when governments who successfully weather a difficult third year go on to be re-elected.

Don Newman is Senior Counsel at Navigator Limited and Ensight Canada, Chairman of Canada 2020 and a lifetime member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.

(As published in November’s Policy Magazine and on policymagazine.ca)

Don Newman: A Good Day for Minister Morneau

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In Question Period today in the House of Commons, the questions were relentless. Why did Finance Minister Bill Morneau not place his considerable ‎wealth in a blind trust as every other wealthy cabinet minister has done in the past and is only doing it now?

And when Question Period ‎ended, the Commons went to a recorded vote. The vote was on a Conservative motion that said the Finance Minister was in a conflict of interest, because his family firm Morneau Shepell must have benefited from government policy while he still owned shares.

But Bill Morneau wasn’t in the House of Commons for any of that criticism. He was preparing to present his fall fiscal update when the financial markets closed at 4:00pm.

What did the Fiscal Update Announce?

And while he was waiting he must have been smiling. Because Morneau told the Commons that Canada’s fiscal outlook had improved by $8.5 billion, since his budget last March.

What’s more, the improved ‎fiscal position means more money for the middle class, and those working hard to join it.

The Canada Child Benefit will increase by $200 for a family with two children next July. In 2019, the year of the next federal election, they will get $500 more than they do now.

The small business tax, which was 15 per cent in 2015 at the time of the last election, will drop to 9 per cent in 2019. Oh yes, that is the year of the next election.

The Government has been criticized for running deficits of close to $30 Billion for the past two years. Well this year, the deficit fell from a projected $28.5 billion in the spring budget to a projected $19.9 billion.

Now the projection is that by the fiscal 2022-2023 the deficit will have shrunk to $12.5 Billion. And the important debt to GDP ratio will fall from 30.5 per cent to 28.5 per cent.

How will it play out?

It is a rosy forecast but how will it play out? Well there are some pitfalls.

As the economy improves and inflation looms the Bank of Canada will have to respond by raising interest rates. And as interest rates go up, the Government’s cost of borrowing will go up, and the deficit will start to climb just to service the debt.

Add to that the uncertainty of the NAFTA negotiations and the economic impact of cancelling the treaty would have, there are potential storm clouds hovering over the financial future.

But for now, it was a good day for Bill Morneau. Not only did the Liberals use their majority to easily defeat the conflict of interest motion, as the Minister himself said, “it is a very good fiscal update.”

Don Newman is Senior Counsel at Ensight, a Member of the Order of Canada, and a life-member and past president of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.

Newman on NAFTA: Your Guide to What Happens Next if NAFTA Talks Fail

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Despite a charm offensive by Prime Minister Trudeau in Washington, President Trump is again signaling his opposition to NAFTA and his desire to terminate it. Our Don Newman explains what exactly will happen, if and when, the plug on NAFTA is pulled.

NAFTA – What Happens Next?

All may not be lost if the current NAFTA negotiations collapse, as there are at least two fallback positions for Canadians to consider. But if Donald Trump announces that he wants the United States out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, what exactly happens next?

Well the sun will still come up in the east the next morning. Under the United States Constitution, it is Congress, not the President, that has jurisdiction over trade and both the House of Representatives and the Senate jealously guard that authority.

That is why to abrogate any trade deal, the President has to give Congress six months notice that he wants to end it. And with NAFTA that will be a critical six months.

Canada, as well as Mexico‎, will then have to determine whether Trump really wants to end NAFTA or whether he just wants to put more pressure on both countries to cave into what they consider unreasonable American demands. This is a negotiating technique that works in real estate and licensing deals and Trump seems to believe it can work in negotiating international trade deals as well.

That, of course, remains to be seen. Mexico has said it will not bow to that kind of pressure, and will end any negotiations. The Canadian government hasn’t said what it would do.

NAFTA in 1987

The past might not be instructive either. At the critical moment in the 1987 negotiations on the Canada – U.S. Free Trade Agreement, Ottawa said the deal could not be completed without an independent system of expert panels to settle the trade disputes that would inevitably arise. The Americans backed down.

But in 1987, if Free Trade had not gone ahead, what was then the status quo would have been maintained. Now, of course, is different. If NAFTA disappears the whole network of supply chains, economies of economic scale and other forms of integration and investment would go with it. There is a lot more at stake than in 1987.

First Fallback Position – Saving Portions of NAFTA

With so much more at stake now than in 1987, Canada, and perhaps even Mexico, may be convinced to keep talking, and to try to save as much of NAFTA as possible working against a six month deadline.

If that is what happens, this is the first fallback position. It means Canadian companies and Associations will have to‎ quickly decide what is absolutely key to their success in the current NAFTA agreement, and what they could survive without.

That will then have to be quickly, forcefully and effectively conveyed to the Government.

But suppose negotiating stops. What happens then?

Second Fallback Position – Engaging US Congressional Committees

In Washington, the NAFTA ball lands in the court of two powerful Congressional Committees with the primary responsibility for trade deals: the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.

They will be the ones with the responsibility of unwinding the laws, rules and regulations in the United States that comprise the system created to facilitate NAFTA.

They will be the ones who will be subjected to tremendous pressure. Lobbyists representing Governors whose states will be particularly hard hit by NAFTA’s cancellation, ‎the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the auto industry, the agrifood industry and farmers organizations among others, will all pressure the Congressmen and Senators on those committees to save and protect the elements of the NAFTA package that favour their interests.

As well, other Senators and Congressmen who are not on the two committees, will be lobbying those that are, to protect industries or consumers in their districts that have benefited from NAFTA.

This is the second fallback position. This can also be an opportunity for Canadian companies and associations to try and preserve elements of NAFTA. Working with Congressman and Senators, and with likeminded American partners, this will be an opportunity to mount effective lobbying efforts in Washington.

It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over

So, although NAFTA could be in peril, as Yogi Berra said: “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

And as the British slogan during the wartime blitz advised: “Keep calm and carry on.

Don Newman is Senior Counsel at Ensight, a Member of the Order of Canada, and a life-member and past president of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.

Newman on NAFTA: Canada’s Full Court Press in Washington and Why it May Not Be Enough

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Ensight’s Don Newman on how high the stakes are for Prime Minister Trudeau during the fourth round of NAFTA talks in Washington and why President Trump may just walk away

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is visiting Washington this week to meet with President Donald Trump and important members of the U.S. Congress.

Why this week? Well this is the week the negotiations for a renewed North American Free Trade Agreement could collapse. And Trudeau wants to be seen as doing everything possible to try and prevent that.

The fourth round of talks to revise the 25 year old agreement begin Wednesday in Washington. ‎This is the round where the Americans are expected to put their most contentious issues on the table.

These issues include:

Buy American / Hire American

The controversial demand that United States‎ companies have the right to bid on Canadian Government contracts, but government contracts in the United States are reserved for only local companies, under the Trump administration’s “Buy American. Hire American” plan.

Car Manufacturing

The demand that all cars manufactured in the three NAFTA countries have a minimum of fifty per cent of their content originate in the United States. Present NAFTA content rules require that sixty-two point five per cent of a car must come from any of Canada, the U.S. or Mexico to pass duty free among the three countries. Raising the content rules as proposed by the Americans would mean that NAFTA countries content would be over eighty per cent, with the overwhelming amount of that content American.

Dispute Settlement

And the proposals for a changed dispute settlement arrangement. The Americans say the present method of settling disputes by independent panels whose members are drawn from all three countries is unfair to the U.S. They want U.S. Trade law, courts and tribunals to adjudicate disputes.

Both Canada and Mexico have said this proposal is a deal breaker that will kill NAFTA. And seeing the way U.S. Trade tribunals are hammering Canada in the Bombardier – Boeing dispute and on Canadian Softwood lumber exports, the resolve to say an emphatic “NO” to putting those same arrangements in NAFTA will only be strengthened. But saying “no” to these proposal will give President Trump the opening he is looking for.

During the election campaign last year Trump said he would either reform NAFTA or kill it. Many people have thought killing it is his real objective. Rejection by Canada or Mexico of the one-sided U.S. proposals put forward this week‎ would give him that opportunity. This week’s visit by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a last ditch effort to prevent that from happening. It is unlikely to be enough.

Don Newman is Senior Counsel at Ensight, a Member of the Order of Canada, and a life-member and past president of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.

Newman on NAFTA: Does the Boeing/Bombardier dispute set a dangerous precedent for Canadian companies?

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Ensight’s Don Newman on the timing of the third round of NAFTA negotiations ending at the same time as the Boeing/Bombardier dispute escalateing and how timing is everything in politics.

Timing is everything.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer have been scrambling to assure everyone who will listen that the massive punitive duties imposed by the United States on Bombardier C series aircraft have nothing to do with the current NAFTA ‎negotiations.

But of course they do. How could they not?

Technically, the two hundred and twenty per cent tariff imposed‎ by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, is the result of a trade complaint against Bombardier launched by Boeing, the behemoth American air plane manufacturer and defence contractor, last spring. But the fact that the tariff Ross imposed is almost three times as much as the penalty Boeing requested shows that there is something more going on.

The tariff announcement came the same day that the third round of NAFTA treaty talks were winding down in Ottawa. There is a feeling that this round was even less productive than the two that proceeded it in Washington and Mexico City. No small feat.

One reason is that the Americans, who forced this renegotiation in the first place, have so far‎ not tabled the one demand, for what is for both Canada and Mexico a make or break clause in the deal. And that is Chapter 19, the independent dispute settlement provisions that allow trade disagreement under NAFTA to be settled by panels of arbiters drawn from all three countries.

The original American NAFTA negotiating objectives tabled with the U.S. Congress said‎ the removal of Chapter 19 was a U.S. goal. So far, what (if anything) Washington wants to replace it with, has not been presented.

If there were to be no replacement at all and President Trump made good on his threat to leave NAFTA, that would mean that every trade dispute would be subject to the same kind of U.S. kangaroo court procedure we have seen Bombardier subjected to in the Boeing complaint.

That is why both Canada and Mexico have said that without an independent dispute settlement process there can be no NAFTA deal.‎ Essentially, we want Chapter 19 maintained.

But what if the Americans propose a watered down version that gives them more chance of winning most trade disputes?

As we have reported before, there is a growing Canadian concern that the Americans are holding back their most controversial proposals on purpose. They will table them as “take it or leave it” as the negotiations progress.

The next round of talks will be in Washington, from October 11th to the 15th. Will this be the time, with any “home field advantage” that might apply, that the Trump administration will table its plans for a dispute mechanism more favourable to American interests?

And will the Bombardier decision be held out as the example of what will happen to Canadian Exporters if we don’t agree?

Bombardier and the NAFTA negotiations have nothing to do with each other? The timing is everything.

Don Newman is Senior Counsel at Ensight, a Member of the Order of Canada, and a life-member and past president of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.

NAFTA and The Power of Words: Newman

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The difficulty going forward in further rounds of NAFTA negotiations was illustrated in the difficulty agreeing to the communique ending the first round on Sunday, August 20, 2017 in Washington.

American negotiators wanted the communique to refer to the four days of talks as the first round in the “renegotiation of NAFTA.”

But negotiators for Canada and Mexico balked at that wording. They wanted the talks described as discussions towards “the modernization of NAFTA.”

Shakespeare once asked: “What’s in a word?”

Well in this case, plenty. The words the Americans wanted describing the talks underline the approach the United States is so far taking in the negotiations. They want a major rewrite of the agreement that President Donald Trump has characterized as “the worst trade deal ever.”

Canada and Mexico don’t agree. Both countries‎ want to preserve as much as possible of the twenty-three year old agreement, and then modernizing it by adding new chapters to cover e-commerce and other aspects of today’s economy that didn’t exist when NAFTA went into effect in 1994.

The dispute over the communique words was matched by action. During the first negotiating session the Americans took an aggressive approach.

Consider just a couple of their demands.

They proposed that cars made under NAFTA, one of the real success stories of the agreement, have even more of their content manufactured in North America that the 62.5 per cent required for duty free treatment under the treat‎y now.

And that’s not all. U.S. negotiators‎ also want a specific amount of that content actually produced in the United States, rather than in any of the three countries as required now.

The Americans also want to do away with the independent dispute settlement mechanism currently in NAFTA, and have the U.S. Courts rather than panels with‎ experts from each of the countries deciding trade disputes. Canada has already said that could be the “deal breaker,” but the Americans proposed it anyway.

Those and many more issues will have to be negotiated, compromises made and agreements reached in the rounds of negotiating sessions going forward.

Can that be done?

Well there’s one hopeful sign.

In Washington all three countries finally agreed on words to describe what they were working on. They agreed the first round of talks had concluded on “the renegotiation of the modernization of NAFTA.‎”

Perhaps there is hope after all.

Ensight Senior Counsel Don Newman has extensively covered trade issues, politics and elections in Washington. He is a member of the Order of Canada and a life-member and past president of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.

Freeland sets the tone with enthusiastic, progressive vision for NAFTA

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Chrystia Freeland is optimistic about the outcome of the North American Free Trade negotiations the United States has forced on Canada and Mexico.

We know that, because she said so multiple times ‎earlier this week, the week the NAFTA negotiations begin in Washington.

The Foreign Affairs Minister struck her upbeat pose as she outlined the ‎things Canada will be seeking in what she called a “modernized” NAFTA. Those items will include the positioning of both labour and environmental clauses in the text of the agreement, as well as recognition of indigenous people and feminism in the NAFTA treaty.

How those second two objectives will go over with the Americans and Mexicans are unclear, and the U.S. is also likely to object to any direct mention of climate change in an environmental clause.

Outlining negotiating objectives was forced on the Trudeau Government by the Opposition parties. Under American law, the Trump administration had to reveal its negotiating objectives to Congress a month before the talks were to begin, and so Conservative and New Democrat MPS wanted the same thing‎ here. While the American objectives filled eighteen pages in a fully prepared document, Canada’s were spelled out in a couple of paragraphs in a ministerial speech.

And the presentation of the objectives explain the true nature of the negotiations.

These talks are being held because the Americans insisted they be held. Donald Trump campaigned and was elected on a promise to either change trade agreements to be more favourable to the United States — or end them altogether. In his inaugral address he made it clear. From then on it was to be “America First.”

The negotiating objectives revealed in July underline that approach. The Americans want greater access to our markets, while placing more restrictions on our access to their markets. Such a one sided approach would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious.

So while Canada will have a wish list for the NAFTA negotiations, the real job of our negotiators is to limit the damage of American demands. We are playing defence throughout this game. How well we play it will determine the future if NAFTA — and to a great degree the health of the Canadian economy.

There is an adage in sports that the best defence is a good offence. Unfortunately, in the NAFTA negotiations beginning this week, that adage doesn’t seem to be true.

Instead, ‎ Canada may well be put in the position of telling the Americans that any new restrictions to Canadian access in the United States will be matched by new restrictions on U.S. Access here. Of course, very much of that tit for tat type of exchange and the whole concept of a free trade agreement would become meaningless.

If that is the way the negotiations develop, then to save NAFTA it will be up to America‎ politicians and business to intervene with the Trump administration.

The Canadian Government has spent the past six months in an unprecedented campaign in the United States trying to convince anyone who might matter in this process how important NAFTA is to America.

There have recently been favourable signs that campaign has been having a positive effect. Perhaps that is why Chrystia Freeland is now so optimistic.

NAFTA talks aren’t an isolated issue for Trump, and that matters to Canada

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When the negotiation to renew the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico begins August 16 at a Washington Hotel two miles north of the White House, it will probably pass under the radar in the American capital.

That is because there is so much controversy swirling around President Donald Trump and his administration that unless the President himself decides to highlight the start of the talks, the media, politicians and the public will likely be more focussed on the possibility of a nuclear confrontation with North Korea or the investigation of Special Council Robert Mueller.

But while the President may want to herald the start of the NAFTA talks to divert attention from his administration’s other problems, will he ultimately be driven to end them for the same reason?

Will Donald Trump ultimately blow up the ‎NAFTA negotiations in a desperate bid to save his beleaguered Presidency?

Trump campaigned on repealing or replacing NAFTA. He called it “the worst trade deal” ever signed by the United States.

He also campaigned on replacing the health insurance plan know as Obama Care, cutting both personal and business taxes, launching a multi-billion infrastructure program and building a wall along the United States border with Mexico.

So far, no progress on any of these promises.

Instead, the Trump administration ‎is mired in a scandal over whether it colluded with the Russian Government and Vladimir Putin in the election campaign he won to beat Hilary Clinton.

So, desperate for a political “win” to show to his political base, will Trump disrupt and the destroy the NAFTA negotiations?

Never interested in the substances of issues, it wouldn’t take much to convince Trump ‎to do just that.

Remember in April Trump attacked Canadian dairy policies in a speech in Wisconsin. That was the headline in the newspapers and on TV.

The real story went much deeper. I was told that when Trump returned to Washington that evening he told Commerce‎ Secretary Wilbur Ross that he wanted to pull the United States out of NAFTA.

The reason; before his speech attacking CANADA a small group of Wisconsin dairy Farmers told him they had been adversely affected by a change in Canadian dairy regulations.

It took the combined efforts of the Prime Minister, the Global Affairs Minister and the Canadian Ambassador in Washington to talk the President out of killing NAFTA.

That was before Trump’s current problems had reached the boiling point.

Now the water is getting really hot for the President. Will the NAFTA negotiations be a victim of all the other problems besetting his troubled Presidency?

Milestones You Need To Know For NAFTA

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The NAFTA negotiations are only a month away. But next week we should find out at least some of the changes the U.S. Government will be trying to make in the 25 year old three way trade deal between Canada the United States and Mexico.

July 17th is the deadline for the Trump administration to notify Congress of its broad goals in the trade talks. For most of June, the Commerce Department and the Office of the Trade Representative heard representations from virtually every sector of the U.S. Economy‎.

The groups that made those representations are now about to find out whether their issues will be on Washington’s negotiating list.

Those that make it, and those that don’t, ‎will get a chance to make their case publicly. That is because the Trade sub-committee of the House Ways and Means Committee will hold public hearings on July 18th to hear representatives from the manufacturing, agriculture and service sectors of the American economy.

These hearings are important, because any final NAFTA agreement will have to be approved by the full Ways and Means Committee and by the Senate Finance Committee before being sent to the ‎House of Representatives and the full Senate for a vote.

The second date to watch for is August 14th. That is when NA‎FTA negotiations ‎can legally begin. August 14th is a Monday. Washington usually does not like to work in August, but in this case it probably will.

That is because of a third date, December 15th. That is when the Mexicans would like the talks finished. Both Canada and the U.S. are doubtful that can happen, but the Mexicans are pointing out that Presidential elections will be held there next July. A left-wing candidate has been leading in the polls and they don’t want the NAFTA negotiations to become the dominant issue in the polls.

Don Newman is Senior Counsel at Ensight, a Member of the Order of Canada, and a life-member and past president of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.