The House

'Put up with the rhetoric' to buy NAFTA more time, expert says

President Trump could be extending his authority which would push back the deadline three years, international trade lawyer Dan Ujczo told The House.

Donald Trump looks willing to ask for extension on trade deal

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland talks with United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, right, and Mexico's Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarrea after the sixth round of NAFTA negotiations in Montreal. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

The NAFTA talks timeline could be extended to give Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. more time for trilateral negotiations.

President Trump could be extending his authority which would push back the deadline three years, international trade lawyer Dan Ujczo told The House.

"The President looks like he's willing to ask for an extension of this authority he has to do any trade deal — including NAFTA — which could kick this into 2021," he said. 

Trump hamstrings U.S. NAFTA team, says Canada's chief negotiator

U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer has signalled that the U.S. was seeking an extension in late January at the most recent negotiation round in Montreal, Ujczo added.

The question of whether NAFTA would be renegotiated or terminated under the current administration has been ongoing.

Ujczo believes that an extension would "open a window in the negotiating room and let in some fresh air."

"For the North American business community, more time is what we need," Ujczo said. "And so I think we're going to have to put up with the rhetoric in order to get that additional time to come up with those creative solutions on some very difficult issues."

The latest NAFTA rhetoric has been divisive from both sides.

On Monday, President Trump said that Canada has mistreated the U.S. on farming and trade. He suggested that a new "reciprocal tax" may be imposed on Canada and other "so-called allies" in future.

Also this week, Canada's chief negotiator Steve Verheul said that the U.S. isn't bringing much "flexibility" to the NAFTA negotiation table.

Verheul indicated that the inflexibility starts at the top of the administration.

The parties could be feeling a "time crunch" Ujczo said, referring to both political calendars and the looming procedural deadline. There are two negotiation rounds left - Mexico City later this month and a final round is slated for Washington in the spring ahead of the June deal deadline.  Domestically, Mexico has presidential elections this July and the U.S. has congressional elections in the fall.

"You could have a scenario where the U.S. and Mexico are ready to go and Canada is seen as foot-dragging a bit."

But overall, Ujczo said he's optimistic about the negotiations moving forward.

"There's a great opportunity here to make NAFTA the gold standard — or maybe even the platinum standard — of 21st century trade agreements. It's just we've got to get the time to get there."

International trade lawyer Dan Ujczo talks about the state of the NAFTA negotiations.