“No fireworks” at NAFTA talks, but few signs of progress

Time is running short to seal a new deal to update the North American Free Trade Agreement by the deadline of end-March 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 19 November 2017

“No fireworks” at NAFTA talks, but few signs of progress

MEXICO CITY: Negotiations in Mexico to update NAFTA have not made much progress on tough US demands that could sink the 1994 trade pact, but the current round of talks are progressing with civility, some participants said on Saturday.
Officials from the US, Canada and Mexico are meeting in Mexico City for the fifth of seven planned rounds to update the North American Free Trade Agreement, from which US President Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw.
Time is running short to seal a deal by the deadline of end-March 2018. Officials say next year’s Mexican presidential election means talks after that date will not be possible.
The US administration has made demands that the other members say are unacceptable, such as a five-year “sunset” clause and tightening so-called rules of origin to boost the North American content of autos.
“It is very slow moving but there are no fireworks,” said a Canadian source with knowledge of the talks, adding there had “not been much conversation at all” on the more contentious US proposals.
Within hours of the latest round of talks formally starting on Friday, Canada was complaining about inflexibility by the US.
Officials have so far discussed other issues such as labor, gender, intellectual property, energy and telecommunications but it is too soon to say whether there will be any breakthroughs this round, added a source familiar with the talks.
“The work is moving forward,” Mexican deputy economy minister Juan Carlos Baker told reporters, adding that the three countries had prioritized technical work in Mexico City.
But he said negotiators were aware that much work lay ahead and “we have to double our efforts.”
“The atmosphere is good, the atmosphere is one of work,” Baker added.
The mood was calmer than the tense scenes during last month’s round in Arlington, Virginia, where tough US demands were revealed. Still, the negotiations have passed the halfway point of an initial schedule with few clear signs of process.
Mexican officials hope chapters on telecommunications and e-commerce will be concluded by the end of business on Tuesday, but there has been no indication of this yet.
Although negotiators are scheduled to discuss rules of origin every day, the source said detailed talks on boosting North American content would not be held before the end of the round on Tuesday.
Canada and Mexico say the new rules of origin are unworkable and would damage the highly-integrated auto industry.
“I hope the US understands there are things ... that Mexico won’t accept, and (I hope) the negotiating process becomes more rational,” Moises Kalach, head of the international negotiating arm of Mexico’s CCE business lobby, told Reuters.
On Friday, the US Trade Representative’s office revised its official objectives to conform to its current demands.
The move prompted US Senator Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, to remove a “hold” he had put in place to block confirmation of two Trump administration nominees for deputy USTR positions, a Wyden aide said.
Wyden had complained the trade office was keeping members of Congress “in the dark.”


Saudi Aramco iktva forum kicks off in Dhahran

Updated 58 sec ago

Saudi Aramco iktva forum kicks off in Dhahran

  • Iktva has become one of the Kingdom’s most important and strategic programs focused on developing the energy sector and creating a world-class supply chain
  • The program aims to reach 70 percent local content, increase exports of Saudi-made energy goods and services, and create thousands of jobs

DHAHRAN: Saudi Aramco’s 5th annual iktva (In-Kingdom Total Value Add) forum kicked off on Monday at the Dhahran Expo center, with over 70 exhibitors, 14 government entities, and 8 international energy partners all present at the mega-event.

Iktva was launched by Saudi Aramco in 2015 to drive increased levels of localization in its supply chain. 

Amin Nasser, President and CEO of Aramco, highlighted the success of the event and how the forum has contributed to the kingdom’s reputation internationally and locally.

“The iktva Forum and Exhibition 2020 represents an ideal opportunity to continue to build on the enormous progress which has already been made in creating an integrated supply chain for the oil field service industry, serving not just the Kingdom but the entire region. As you know, we take great pride in our low-cost production, and our reputation for reliability. A first-class supply chain is a critical factor that makes both possible,” he said.

He also indicated that the success of the event could be seen in the numbers.

“For the first time, the majority of our procurement is from in-kingdom: 56 percent to be exact. Our suppliers have tripled their local purchases of goods and services, their employment of Saudis is up 50 percent, and female employment has increased by almost a third. Our suppliers are exporting 50 percent more from the kingdom, because of iktva,”

Aramco signed 66 initial agreements and strategic and commercial collaborations valued at more than $21 billion with international partner companies and entities from 11 countries in several industrial and business sectors across the Saudi Arabian energy sector.

In addition, a joint venture agreement with Baker Hughes was also signed. The joint venture will be a multi-sectorial non-metallic investment platform designed to innovate, develop and manufacture composite materials for both oil and gas as well as non-oil and gas applications.

The venture will leverage polymer materials and state-of-the-art manufacturing processes to deliver transformational non-metallic products, starting with reinforced thermoplastic pipes. The JV facility will be located at the King Salman Energy Park (SPARK), and will serve the MENA region. 

Launched in 2015, iktva has become one of the Kingdom’s most important and strategic programs focused on developing the energy sector and creating of a world-class supply chain. The program aims to reach 70 percent local content, increase exports of Saudi-made energy goods and services, and create thousands of technical and professional jobs and careers.