Newspaper article The Canadian Press

NAFTA: Why Trump's Trade Pick Is Moving Slowly to Confirmation

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

NAFTA: Why Trump's Trade Pick Is Moving Slowly to Confirmation

Article excerpt

NAFTA: Trump trade pick nears confirmation

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WASHINGTON - The start of the NAFTA renegotiation process is working through a final hurdle in the U.S. Senate -- one imposed by a famous member of President Donald Trump's own party, in a symbolic example of the free-trade rift between the past and present of the GOP.

The party leadership began closure proceedings late Tuesday to force a vote on the confirmation of Trump's trade czar. That means a few more days of debate, followed by Robert Lighthizer's likely confirmation, which would let him start preparing for negotiations later this year with Canada and Mexico.

One reason it didn't happen sooner: unanimous consent was denied by John McCain.

The Republican icon and onetime presidential nominee dismissed suggestions he's been nursing a grudge. Lighthizer wrote a mildly critical newspaper column in 2008 that said McCain's support of free trade didn't prove he was conservative.

Rather, McCain said, it's a matter of principle. He said he has been asking questions, and awaiting answers from Lighthizer, about free trade, an issue central to the Republican party orthodoxy in the pre-Trump era.

"It has a lot to do with whether a trade representative is for free trade or not. Or whether they want to be further isolationists and destroy our economy," McCain said Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

"I'm not saying I'm opposing him. I want answers to the questions. That's what senators do. That's the right of a senator. It's normal. It's what we do every day."

The administration desperately hopes to get moving on NAFTA. Once Lighthizer is confirmed, it could file its 90-day notice before starting negotiations. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says he hopes Lighthizer gets confirmed as early as this week.

Ross said there's mounting time pressure. With the Mexican election approaching and the U.S. midterm elections shortly thereafter, both the Mexican and American administrations have said they want a deal by early 2018.

Failure to seal an agreement by then could delay things to 2019.

"The Senate has been slow-walking the confirmation of Bob Lighthizer," Ross told a conference at the State Department. "We will seek a far more aggressive meeting schedule (on NAFTA this fall) than has been the norm thus far."

He repeated his frequently stated position that he's willing to negotiate a bilateral or trilateral deal, and isn't particularly wedded to either approach. …

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