In Nafta Rewrite, Canada Took Cue From Mexico: Make a Big Concession

As Trump’s deadline for the negotiation neared, Canadian negotiators struggled to make the U.S. give ground

Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo offered advice: Make a key concession to the U.S. to break the logjam. Mexico had bent to U.S. pressure on policies aimed at shifting auto production from Mexico back north, opening the way for Mexico and the U.S. to strike a broader deal a month earlier.

.. For Canada, the equivalent of Mexican cars was dairy. Canadian negotiators had already been thinking along the same lines, and the next day, Canada sent the U.S. a document that included detailed plans for easing curbs on American milk and cheese products, a Canadian official said.

.. Two sectors drew outsize attention in the talks—auto and dairy—that came to be dubbed by some the “cars and cows” negotiations. The path to the deal had plenty of twists and gambits that backfired over the 13 months of meetings, as Mexico and Canada at times accused each other of betraying their early oath to present a united front.

The tone for the Nafta talks was set in October 2017, when Mr. Lighthizer made a number of controversial demands that would recast the pact, such as injecting a “sunset clause” making it easier for a country to terminate the pact and weakening the mechanisms allowing challenges to American trade penalties.

Among the most controversial proposals was one requiring that half the content of cars built in North America come from the U.S. Both Canada and Mexico quickly rejected that as incompatible with the core principles of an agreement designed to tighten integration of a continentwide bloc.

.. But behind the scenes, Canadian officials thought they could work with the idea. They asked a longtime trade bureaucrat to find a creative way to satisfy U.S. goals without capitulating to U.S. demands. He put together a plan that would change the criteria for what qualifies as “North American content,” in a way that would emphasize higher-value input such as software.
.. “It became clear at that stage that Lighthizer wasn’t going to give us anything at all until he knew the outcome of negotiations for the auto sector,”
.. At the end of August, Messrs. Trump and Peña Nieto announced a deal that included the requirement that 40% to 45% of North American auto content be made by workers paid at least $16 an hour.
.. Though the Nafta dairy market is worth a fraction of the auto industry—and the U.S. runs a dairy surplus with Canada—it became an important issue for Mr. Trump after he got an earful during an April 2017 visit to Wisconsin. The president made Canadian dairy a staple of stump speeches and tweets complaining about how Canada took advantage of the U.S.
.. Mr. Kushner had come to play a behind-the-scenes role in the Nafta talks, and Canada’s negotiators wanted him to see right away a document that included Canada’s formal offer on dairy. The key concession had been made and the U.S. soon responded by giving in to some of Canada’s key demands.

Trade Fight Threatens Farm Belt Businesses

Many farmers, who depend on shipments overseas for one-fifth of the goods they produce, say they are anxious

Researchers at the University of Illinois and Ohio State University estimate that over four years, a 25% tariff on U.S. soybean imports by Beijing would result in an average 87% decline in income for a midsize Illinois grain farm. The loss would pressure farmland prices, they say, prompting a more than $500,000 decline in the farm’s net worth by 2021.

.. Still, many farmers say they support the Trump administration’s trade goals of modernizing Nafta, shrinking the U.S. trade deficit and combating what they see as unfair trade practices by China. They view the president’s approach as a negotiating tactic and hope it will bear fruit by fall, when farmers will harvest their crops. Some are prepared to sacrifice financially if the U.S. economy benefits in the long run.

.. administration officials have tried to reassure farmers, saying they are considering the use of Depression-era programs, which permit borrowing of as much as $30 billion from the Treasury, as well as other tools to shield farmers from trade-related losses.

..  if farm incomes are significantly squeezed, tensions could emerge between party loyalty and farmers’ wallets. “In a close enough election even a small group can matter,” Mr. Franklin said.

.. Some farmers fear trade battles will jeopardize foreign markets for U.S. agricultural products that took decades to establish.

.. Dairy farmers have been banking on sales abroad to help absorb increasing milk supplies that have pushed down prices. Tariffs imposed on U.S. cheese exports by Mexico, the largest buyer of U.S. dairy products, add insult to injury

Trump Breaks Rules, but When Do We Start Winning?

He is in nonstop motion on North Korea, Iran and trade. What comes next?

In a press conference after his summit with Kim Jong Un, President Trump said: “Honestly, I think he’s going to do these things. I may be wrong. I mean, I may stand before you in six months and say, ‘Hey, I was wrong.’ I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of an excuse.”
.. He has turned virtually the entire Washington press corps into a determined opposition and routinely calls on his own attorney general to resign.

No U.S. president has ever done these things. What has this approach produced?

Politically, it has provided his supporters the constant reassurance that he will fight for them in the most public way with anyone.

..  Within hours of the summit, a statement by China made it clear the sanctions regime is going to erode during negotiations. Restoring that leverage will be impossible. It is a big loss.

.. we have been watching the attention-getting half of Mr. Trump’s improvisational negotiating model. Where’s the rest of it? When do we get the payoff for all this activity?

.. Feeling good again about America matters. But in an unsentimental world, that isn’t the same as winning.

Debacle in Quebec

there has never been a disaster like the G7 meeting that just took place. It could herald the beginning of a trade war, maybe even the collapse of the Western alliance. At the very least it will damage America’s reputation as a reliable ally for decades to come; even if Trump eventually departs the scene in disgrace, the fact that someone like him could come to power in the first place will always be in the back of everyone’s mind.

.. I’m already seeing headlines to the effect that Trump took a belligerent “America first” position, demanding big concessions from our allies, which would have been bad. But the reality was much worse.

.. He didn’t put America first; Russia first would be a better description. And he didn’t demand drastic policy changes from our allies; he demanded that they stop doing bad things they aren’t doing. This wasn’t a tough stance on behalf of American interests, it was a declaration of ignorance and policy insanity.

.. Trump started with a call for readmitting Russia to the group, which makes no sense at all. The truth is that Russia, whose GDP is about the same size as Spain’s and quite a bit smaller than Brazil’s, was always a ringer in what was meant to be a group of major economies. It was brought in for strategic reasons, and kicked out when it invaded Ukraine.

.. There is no possible justification for bringing it back, other than whatever hold Putin has on Trump personally.

.. Then Trump demanded that the other G7 members remove their “ridiculous and unacceptable” tariffs on U.S. goods – which would be hard for them to do, because their actual tariff rates are very low. The European Union, for example, levies an average tariff of only three percent on US goods.

.. Yes, Canada imposes high tariffs on certain dairy products. But it’s hard to make the case that these special cases are any worse than, say, the 25 percent tariff the U.S. still imposes on light trucks.

.. His trade advisers have repeatedly claimed that value-added taxes, which play an important role in many countries, are a form of unfair trade protection. But this is sheer ignorance

.. they’re just a way of implementing a sales tax — which is why they’re legal under the WTO.

.. He may just have been ranting. After all, he goes on and on about other vast evils that don’t exist, like a huge wave of violent crime committed by illegal immigrants (who then voted in the millions for Hillary Clinton.)

Was there any strategy behind Trump’s behavior? Well, it was pretty much exactly what he would have done if he really is Putin’s puppet: yelling at friendly nations about sins they aren’t committing won’t bring back American jobs, but it’s exactly what someone who does want to break up the Western alliance would like to see.

.. Alternatively, maybe he was just acting out because he couldn’t stand having to spend hours with powerful people who will neither flatter him nor bribe him by throwing money at his family businesses – people who, in fact, didn’t try very hard to hide the contempt

.. this was an utter, humiliating debacle. And we all know how Trump responds to humiliation.