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Expect Harder Days Ahead for NAFTA Talks: Commerce Secretary Ross

Posted September 11, 2017

Negotiators from the United States, Canada and Mexico are have been tackling the least controversial issues in the talks to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement in an attempt to gain impetus for the harder bargaining expected to come in subsequent rounds, according to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

“In any big complicated negotiation, and this is a complicated one, you’ve got something like 2,500 pages to deal with and of those 2,500 pages there are only handful that are really key, but you’ve got to wind through all of them,” Ross said at an event last Friday organized by the Washington Post.

“So the strategy in the negotiations is to start with some of the easier things, get some of the textual issues out of the way, try to build some momentum, so you really have some momentum, a feeling of togetherness, as you move into the harder issues,” he continued.

Asked by James Hohmann, the author of the Post’s Daily 202 newsletter, about the progress made so far in the two rounds of discussions, Ross said that it was “too early to make a judgment” but he noted that compared to past negotiations the teams were working at an “extremely rapid” pace in an effort to beat the political calendar.

Pointing to Mexico’s presidential elections next summer, upcoming provincial elections in Ontario and Quebec, the U.S. midterm elections in November 2018, and the expiration of the president’s Trade Promotion Authority in July 2018, Ross warned that the talks “can’t drag on too long” because “as you get closer to all of those political dates the ability to get anything done will go down.”

During the conversation which touched on a wide range of topics, including the current state of trade relations China and problems the administration has with the U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement, Ross also defended Trump’s repeated threats to withdraw from NAFTA altogether. “The president has made clear that if [the negotiations] don’t work, he is going to pull out, Ross said, adding “that shouldn’t be a shock to anyone.”

"We need fixes to this deal. It has not worked the way it intended to,” Ross claimed before reiterating the administration’s mysterious obsession with bilateral trade deficits and noting in this regard how since NAFTA’s entry into force in 1994, the trade gap with Mexico has exploded. “A trade deal is supposed to benefit both sides,” stated Ross.

Note: The video begins at 3:03 and runs to 3:36.