Wednesday, October 11, 2017

NAFTA Talks Resume in D.C. (Oct 11, 2017)

The Mexican, Canadian, and U.S. government will enter the fourth round of talks on renewing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) today in D.C. The talks, which were extended by two days, are now set to run until October 17.

President Trump has made no secret of his willingness to scrap the deal entirely. As noted in a Washington Post editorialthe U.S. has made several "alarming" demands -- including a request that NAFTA essentially be re-negotiated every five years -- that will likely raise serious opposition from Mexico and Canada. CNBC reported that the U.S. will likely demand stricter standards for designating goods as duty free, as well as requesting that 50 percent of U.S. goods be tariff-free (CNBC does not clarify whether this would apply to all industries). As Reuters reportedthe most powerful business body in the U.S. has called these demands a "poison pill" meant to sabotage the NAFTA deal. 

Mexican government officials have taken a subtly aggressive stance against Trump's hostile positioning to NAFTA. Yesterday Mexico's foreign minister told his country's Senate that the end of NAFTA “won’t be the end of the world." He also implied that ending NAFTA would limit or even end Mexico's cooperation with the U.S. when it comes to drug trafficking, migration, and security issues (a prospect reiterated by Mexico's minister of the economy). Overall, it's likely that the threat of a NAFTA collapse leading to a larger collapse within Mexico -- with serious repercussions for U.S. security and/or other economic interests -- is powerful leverage that Mexican negotiators will remain intent on using. 

As Jon Lee Anderson details in a New Yorker story on U.S.-Mexico relations under Trump, Mexico's view of NAFTA as just another chapter in a long history of an "oppressive" relationship could also push the Mexican government to walk away from the agreement, in order to protect a sense of national pride.  Anderson implies that if anything ends up saving NAFTA, it may end up being Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray's friendship Jared Kushner, with one U.S. official telling Anderson, "Jared and Videgaray pretty much run Mexico policy."

In terms of contemplating potential repercussions of a scrapped NAFTA deal, The Telegraph speculates that a post-Brexit United Kingdom could seek to join some kind of U.S.-Mexico-Canada partnership. Elsewhere, The Atlantic Council has produced a report examining the wide-ranging policy implications if NAFTA ends. 

News Briefs
  • The Colombian director of Guatemala anti-impunity commission the CICIG had his visa revoked, the latest twist in the tense, ongoing standoff between the commission and the Guatemalan government. That same day, the CICIG released a report analyzing what is described as its most significant accomplishments since it was established in 2006. 
  • El Nuevo Herald reported that the U.S. will continuing issuing visas for Cubas looking to reunite with family members, although no details have emerged on how the reduced staff at the U.S. Embassy in Havana will handle the workload. Under a 1994 agreement, the U.S. is supposed to give 20,000 visas per year to Cubans on the island. Some 106,000 Cubans are on a waitlist for U.S. visa applications, the article found.
  • With Venezuela's regional elections coming up on October 15, analyst David Smilde looks at why the vote could prove to be a "watershed moment." "The real test will come after the election as the government will either face a very different map with at least half of the governorships in the hands of the opposition, or will have to carry out some inelegant political maneuvers that will likely carry significant political costs," Smilde writes at the WOLA Venezuela Politics and Human Rights blog. In other Venezuela-related news, Mexico confirmed that it will accompany the Maduro government and the opposition in negotiations, EFE reported
  • The Brookings Institution has a harsh critique of the Trump administration's decision to reduce its staff in Cuba due to concerns over alleged "sonic attacks." The White House and Congressional representations with a hardline stance on Cuba have "opportunistically" used the alleged attacks as an excuse to overturn Obama's pro-normalization policies, the report argues, adding, "By taking these precipitous actions, this White House is doing exactly what our adversaries in the region seek to provoke."
  • report by Global Americans examines the lack of indigenous representation in legislatures across Latin America, a disparity which is particularly acute in Mexico and Peru, where there are large indigenous populations. Bolivia's legislature has the highest number of indigenous people represented in their Congress (41 out of 166 seats) followed by Guatemala (20 out of 158 seats). 
  • New York Times op-ed examines why Venezuela was included in the Trump administration's latest travel ban. The piece argues that, given efforts by the White House to escalate pressure on Venezuela and its ongoing push to establish a constitutional travel ban against majority Muslim countries, Venezuela's inclusion on the travel ban list "adds to the sense that a frustrated White House is throwing things at the wall and hoping something will stick."
  • The Economist has a profile of Peruvian sculptor and painter Fernando de Szyszlo, describing him as representative of "the globalization of Latin American art." 

-- Elyssa Pachico 

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