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Canada: NAFTA's Proposed Changes 'Troubling'

  • Jim Randle

United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, center, with Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland, left, and Mexico's Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarrea speaks during the conclusion of the fourth round of negotiations for a new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in Washington, Oct. 17, 2017.

Canada's foreign minister says there are "unconventional" and "troubling" proposals on the table as Canada, the United States and Mexico seek to update the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The fourth round of talks on revising the 23-year-old NAFTA deal wrapped up Tuesday, with more talks set for Mexico next month and additional discussions early next year.

Canada's Chrystia Freeland said proposals created "challenges," and "turn back the clock" on NAFTA. Failure could threaten jobs across North America, she said. In addition, ending NAFTA could hurt the North American teamwork that produces cars efficiently and makes them competitive with products from other regions, she added.

Mexico's Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said it was clear from the beginning that the talks would be tough and "we still have a lot of work to do." He also said all nations "have limits."

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the United States faces a large trade deficit, and blamed NAFTA for the loss of manufacturing jobs. He expressed frustration that his negotiating partners were not willing to make changes to reduce those deficits.

NAFTA was harshly criticized by candidate Donald Trump, and press reports say Washington has since proposed renegotiating the deal every five years, requiring more U.S.-made content in automobiles, and scaling back a mechanism to resolve disputes. Trump has blamed what he called poorly negotiated agreements for the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs that hurt the U.S. economy. He promised to drive harder bargains in trade deals.

The Brookings Institution's Dany Bahar said trade deficits are not the cause of job losses, and called the U.S. focus misplaced. He said NAFTA's dispute resolution mechanism and some other provisions could use some updating. However, he told VOA that NAFTA is closer to collapse than in previous rounds of talks. Such a collapse would mean U.S.-made cars would become more expensive and less competitive on world markets, likely making the United States the "biggest loser" if the trade deal fails, he said.

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