Political posturing casts sour tone over Montreal NAFTA talks

Political posturing casts sour tone over Montreal NAFTA talks
From CBC - January 23, 2018

The sixth round of NAFTAtalkshas barely started in Montreal, and yet the political posturing behind the scenes is alreadycasting a sour tone over themeeting.

The Canadian Press reported that the Americans are not only frustrated with Canada over the lack of progress, but also the recent complaint made against the U.S. at the World Trade Organization.

A source with direct knowledge of the talks is fighting back against those claims, saying it is "nonsense" to suggest Canada is being obstructionist.

"Obviously, the unconventional proposals from the U.S. have been the core issues since round four, but it is clearly in their tactical interest to paint a different picture," the source said, speaking on background.

"We have been first to the table from the start, and we continue to be very constructive, looking for ways to bridge gaps."

The back-channel back-and-forth appears to be a sign of stressat the table.

"I think It's contentious," said former U.S. diplomat Sarah Goldfeder. "But it is something that is par for the course in trade negotiations, especially when so much is on the line," she added.

If the tensions do not ease, it could lead to another public political meltdownthe last time political leaders overseeing NAFTA spoke following a round of talksall three delivered blunt criticism over the lack of progress.

"Frankly, I am surprised and disappointed by the resistance to change from our negotiating partners on both fronts," U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said at the closing news conference for the fourth round of talks, in October.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland accused the U.S. of making "troubling" proposals and embracing a "winner takes all mindset."

For professional diplomats, the comments were not exactly diplomatic.

Since that round in Washingtontalks have been spaced outin the hopes of turning down the temperature at the bargaining table.

Political leaders also took a step back, and did not meet at the end of the fifth round of talks.

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