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NAFTA talks continue

Saturday, January 27, 2018

MONTREAL - US officials on Thursday probed Canadian proposals for unblocking talks on NAFTA but there were few signs of progress, raising questions about whether any real movement is happening at the latest round of negotiations on the treaty.

Teams from Canada, Mexico and the United States are in Montreal for the sixth and penultimate set of talks on the North American Free Trade Agreement. Major differences remain to be settled ahead of the end-March deadline.

The administration of US President Donald Trump, which has repeatedly threatened to walk away from the 1994 pact, wants more North American content in autos and is pressing for a sunset clause that would allow one party to pull out of the treaty after five years.

On Wednesday, Canadian negotiators unveiled what they termed "creative ideas" to address US demands for a sunset clause and higher auto content.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer met Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday and asked a series of technical questions about the autos proposals, said a source briefed on the meeting.

Canada suggests North American content would be higher if the value of software and other high-tech equipment made on the continent were taken into account.

Canadian chief negotiator Steve Verheul described the mood at the talks as "still reasonably constructive" and said the US side would take the auto proposals back to Washington.

"I think it went reasonably well. There is a lot more thinking to do," he told reporters on Thursday.

Mr Trump, who has made contradictory comments about the 1994 treaty in recent weeks, told CNBC, "NAFTA's a horrible deal, we're renegotiating it. I may terminate NAFTA, I may not - we'll see what happens."

Despite signs of possible movement on the autos file, there remain large gaps between the United States and its partners, indicating much work must be done if the process is to wrap up by end-March as planned.

Earlier, one source close to the talks complained that "we have brought flexibility, we have brought ideas, but the problem is that the United States has not moved an inch".

Tensions between Canada and the United States were set to rise on Friday when a US trade commission is due to rule on whether to confirm steep anti-dumping tariffs on planemaker Bombardier Inc. A Canadian government source said Ottawa expected Bombardier to lose.

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