NAFTA talks resume as questions arise on Trump’s involvement

Canada resumed NAFTA talks in Washington on Wednesday after a four-day break in negotiations that appeared to be pretty dicey for the American side.

The Trump administration’s failure to secure a deal before last Friday wasn’t well-received by key voices in Congress, where NAFTA’s fate ultimately will be decided.

By the end of the weekend, the White House seemed to have fallen out with an ally it had hoped would back a revised NAFTA: a union representing millions of working-class Americans, now souring on President Donald Trump’s ability to deliver.

As talks resume, the priority to-do list is same as on Friday afternoon. That is to update NAFTA’s dispute settlement chapters in ways that are both consistent and comfortable for all three partners, to bridge the gap between what Donald Trump wants and what Canada is prepared to give from the supply-managed agriculture sectors, to address nagging Canadian concerns about protections for cultural industries, figure out how many of the concessions Mexico made to the U.S. on intellectual property are also acceptable to Canada.

Fresh signs of perceived weakness in Washington may bolster Canada’s determination to reject a bad deal, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed publicly to do. Trudeau’s team spent the weekend talking to stakeholders and advisers to prepare for this week.

The tone Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland set early in her public statements during the negotiations — a no-drama approach of working “intensely” and “constructively” and praising the “goodwill” of counterparts — seems to be holding firm.

Work is on to finalize the situation before the next Congressional deadline at the end of the month. If all three parties remain serious about a signing ceremony before Mexico’s government changes hands Dec.1, the negotiated text is due by Sept. 30.