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US Trade Rep says “time is running very short” on NAFTA negotiations

Robert Lighthizer.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. Photo: Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP / Getty Images

Today marks the end of the seventh round of NAFTA talks, with just 3 of 30 chapters (negotiation topics) closed this round.

Where things stand: U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer says that time might be running out to get a NAFTA deal on the books, with elections coming up this year in all three countries. Most significantly, the campaign for Mexico’s July presidential election will kick off in a few weeks.

Where negotiations stand: One of the most controversial questions on the table, regarding auto manufacturing and rules of origin, has not been resolved. Only 6 chapters in total have been closed across the seven rounds of talks.

Bottom line: Negotiations could take a back-burner and be kicked to 2019. Or, as Trump has threatened, the U.S. could withdraw.

  • The political calculus: A ratification vote would need to go before Congress.
  • No deal in sight: Experts don’t think they will be able to finish negotiations by the end of the next round, coming this month in Washington, per Reuters.
  • Separate deals: Lighthizer said he would be willing to break the negotiations into separate bilateral negotiations, but that that would not be ideal.

How tariffs are playing: Trump today said if Canada and Mexico gave the U.S. a “fair” deal he would consider exempting them from steel and aluminum tariffs. But Canada and Mexico pushed back on this idea.

The tone at the close:

  • USTR Lighthizer: “We have not made the progress that many had hoped in this round.”
  • Canada’s Foreign Minister, Chrystia Freeland: "Canada would view any trade restrictions on Canadian steel and aluminum as absolutely unacceptable.”
  • Mexico’s Economy Minister Ildefonso Guahjardo said negotiations aren’t moving fast enough, per Reuters.
Khorri Atkinson 12 hours ago
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NYT: Mueller witness tried to influence White House on Gulf states

Interviews and previously undisclosed documents revealed that a witness in Robert Mueller's probe had worked for over a year to convert a Republican fundraiser into a White House influencer to help usher in deals on behalf of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the New York Times reports.

The backdrop: George Nader, a political adviser of the U.A.E. and Elliott Broidy, the RNC's deputy finance chair, reportedly urged the White House to dismiss Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's support of combative approaches to Iran and Qatar. In another case, Nader promised Broidy over a $1 billion in contracts for his private security company in exchange for deals.

David Philips 14 hours ago
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Expert Voices

Russian obstruction on Syria at UN Security Council demands response

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein speaking during a press conference at the UN Offices in Geneva.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini / AFP via Getty Images

Russia used a procedural vote on Monday to prevent UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein from presenting on human rights conditions in Syria to the UN Security Council (UNSC).

Why it matters: To date, Russia has vetoed nine resolutions aimed at intensifying pressure on Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, moves that not only counter U.S. interests but undermine the international system.