Canada’s chief NAFTA negotiator has warned that the U.S. needs to show more flexibility on “core” issues if it wants to get a deal signed this spring, according to The Canadian Press.
“There’s obviously some significant gaps on many issues,” Steve Verheul said. There are a lot of points where the two sides are not that far apart, he said, but “on the core, most important issues, there is a significant amount of work still to be done.”
Verheul said the sticking points are the U.S. positions on autos, a proposed sunset clause, access to U.S. government procurement and the American desire to opt out of a dispute resolution chapter.
Verheul’s message seemed to contradict a more optimistic assessment issued on the same day by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
“I’m hopeful,” Lighthizer said. “I think we’re making progress. All three parties want to move forward. If there’s a real effort made to try to close out and to compromise and to do some of the things we all know we should do, I’m optimistic we can get something done, in principle, in the next little bit.”
Verheul noted that Canada has yet to see “what the U.S. means by an agreement in principle.”
“An agreement in principle to our understanding means some sense of direction on the big issues, the important issues. We have not seen that from the U.S. so far. If we’re going to achieve that, we would clearly require some considerable flexibility in the U.S. positions.”
The U.S. appears to have backed away from one of its most contentious demands and is no longer insisting that 50 per cent of cars be made in the U.S., and is now floating a different formula based on autoworker salaries.