Congressmen 'optimistic' U.S. won't scrap NAFTA

Congressmen participating in the NAFTA talks said the doomsday predictions surrounding the trade deal are unfounded.

10 representatives from subcommittee on trade were in Montreal to get update on negotiations

NAFTA trade negotiators have been in Montreal for the past four days working on the trade deal. (Judi Bottoni/AP Photo)

Congressmen participating in the NAFTA talks said the doomsday predictions surrounding the trade deal are unfounded. 

Ten representatives from the Congressional Ways and Means subcommittee on trade were in Montreal for two days to get an update on the status of the negotiations. 

They met in at least one closed meeting headed by Andrew Leslie, Canada's parliamentary secretary of foreign affairs.

Emerging after a breakfast meeting on Saturday, the tone seemed to have shifted from the nervous atmosphere leading up to the sixth round of talks.

"I think doomsday talk is not correct, but it's also essential the parties step up to the plate on the critical issues," said Sander Levin, a Democratic representative for a district in Michigan.

Congressional visitors in Montreal were updated on the status of the NAFTA negotiations this weekend. (CBC)

His fellow congressman agreed that there are issues yet to be resolved, but there is a clear path forward. 

"Every marriage is different. This was a marriage 25 years ago and then it seems like the partners go in different directions," Bill Pascrell, a representative from New Jersey, said. 

"Now it's time for some counselling to bring people back together again, not only on trade but on other issues."

Pascrell added that the attitude of "tearing it all down" has changed, and the Trump administration may have been wrong when it suggested the U.S. doesn't need NAFTA.

"I'm more optimistic than I was six months ago."

Despite the optimism, both men said Mexico's labour standards have been a stumbling block for the negotiations. 

Underpaying workers keeps costs down, driving business away from the United States, Levin explained. 

Realistic, but optimistic

With the U.S. focus shifting toward Mexico, Canadian representatives see an opportunity to cool the tensions that have developed over "poison pills" raised in the five previous rounds of talks. 

The U.S. demands surrounding the auto sector, agriculture and an expiry clause were heavily criticized by both Canadian and Mexican officials.

Progress has been made, despite the controversial requests. On Saturday, a source with direct knowledge of the talks told CBC News that the anti-corruption chapter of NAFTA was completed. 

"With every passing round of the negotiations, more and more of the contentious issues are closer to being solved," Leslie said, describing the congressional visit as a "warm exchange." 

A softer tone between Canada and the U.S. will help quell the fears of foreign investors bracing for a trade blow up, but the final decision on NAFTA still inevitably lies with the American government.

"This is still an executive decision that the White House will have to make," Leslie said.

Negotiators are still waiting to hear from Robert Lighthizer, the United States Trade Representative, on the final day of meetings. The Americans have been tight-lipped about their reaction to Canada's new proposals while waiting for Lighthizer's arrival.

The talks will wrap up on Monday.

With files from the CBC's Katie Simpson