Spotlight: U.S., Mexican elections threat to prolonged NAFTA talks -- experts

Source: Xinhua| 2017-09-21 16:00:59|Editor: Song Lifang
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by Evan Duggan

VANCOUVER, Sept. 20 (Xinhua) -- Political distractions caused by the U.S. mid-term elections and the Mexican presidential vote next year could freeze the prolonged North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) talks, said Tomasz Swiecki, a trade expert at the local University of British Columbia (UBC).

The third round of NAFTA talks is set to take place on Sept. 23-27 in the Canadian capital of Ottawa, with observers keen to see how the Canadian, American and Mexican trade delegations handle potentially hot-button issues that tend to emerge in the later rounds of such trade talks.

"I think it's plausible that basically these negotiations will not reach a consensus within the timeline that's been set out," Swiecki told Xinhua on Wednesday.

The U.S. government has said it wants to wrap up these talks by the end of the year.

But Swiecki and other Canadian trade experts have said the remaining few months of 2017 likely do not provide enough time to close the negotiation process, let alone offer enough time for each government to ratify the pact domestically.

If the negotiations are carried over into next year's U.S. elections in November and the presidential vote in Mexico in July, new and unpredictable political obstacles could get pulled into the NAFTA talks and de-rail the whole process, Swiecki said.

"Given the current climate, nobody wants to come across as having heavy losses in the negotiations, or having given up key provisions for their respective countries," he said.

"Perhaps these negotiations would be frozen for the next year as we have these political developments in the United States and Mexico," he said. "This would not be the worst outcome that we could imagine right now."

James Brander, another trade expert at UBC, said it is more likely that the talks would continue amid the elections.

"Obviously, the United States wants to move quickly, and for that matter I'm sure Canada and Mexico also want to get it over with sooner rather than later," he said in an interview.

"But the one rule with trade negotiations is they always take longer than expected," he said.

"It's certainly possible that they (NAFTA talks) can drag on, and maybe they will slow down if they drag on as long as the height of the election season, especially in the United States," said Brander.

However, U.S. President Donald Trump's high-profile running commentary and politicking over NAFTA would likely insulate members of Congress and the Senate from NAFTA as an election issue, he added.

Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated his wish to push for new NAFTA chapters on gender equality, indigenous rights and labor protections.

Trudeau was speaking Tuesday in New York at the Atlantic Council Gala amid the United Nations General Assembly. "We need to do a better job of ensuring the benefits of trade extend to the middle class and those working hard to join the middle class -- not just the wealthiest few," Trudeau said.

Swiecki said that in practical terms, Trudeau's talking points could hardly be implemented.

"Maybe we'll end up with some language (in NAFTA) on those issues if the United States doesn't protest too much, but in terms of the practical implications of those provisions, I still don't know exactly how that could work out," he said.

Swiecki said that in the next round of talks in Ottawa, some controversy at the trade table and in the press could surface.

In particular, the United States recently floated its desire to include a so-called sunset provision in the new deal, meaning that NAFTA would have to be renewed every five years.

"That's something that comes out of the blue and this would, if they were serious about this, change the dynamic of the negotiation of the whole pact completely," Swiecki said. "This would really bring a lot of unnecessary uncertainty."