When you walk around the hallways in the Hotel Bonaventure in downtown Montreal, you see white pieces of paper shoved under many hotel room doors.
NAFTA negotiators are settling up their hotel bills and heading out as political staffers get ready to move in.
Chief negotiators from all three NAFTA countries met on Saturday to recap the week, and prepare for the arrival of their bosses.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Mexico’s secretary of the economy, Ildefonso Guajardo, will stand together in Montreal on Monday and reveal whether the optimism offered up by some involved in the latest round of talks signals any meaningful progress.
‘Moving in the right direction’
“I think it was a positive week, we’re moving in the right direction, but there’s a long ways to go,” Canada’s chief negotiator Steve Verheul said Saturday.
But he was clear to say, “I wouldn’t characterize it as so optimistic.”
“We’re still negotiating and that’s the main thing.”
The Canadians used this NAFTA round to try and ease tensions on the most controversial proposals at the table by suggesting a series of compromises.
Ideas around the auto sector, the dispute resolution process and a sunset clause have not been rejected outright by the Americans — yet.
Canada and Mexico see that as a positive development.
But there is still a deep sense of anxiety, triggered by memories of the last joint public outing for Freeland, Lighthizer and Guajardo.
At the end of the fourth round of talks in October, all three stood on a small stage in Washington and openly criticized each other.
Freeland accused the U.S. of embracing a “winner takes all” mindset — but Lighthizer’s words were just as pointed, accusing Canada and Mexico of being inflexible.
Monday’s meeting will be the first public opportunity to hear what the Trump administration thinks about the compromises and if they’re willing to discuss the ideas further.
Trump stress release
In front of the hotel where negotiators were hammering out details, dozens of protesters gathered Saturday afternoon demanding delegates consider worker-friendly policies.
In the crowd, a young woman held a stack of strange looking cardboard cutouts.
“These are Donald Trump stress cards,” she said
Each square, roughly the size of a greeting card, contains sixteen small photos of the U.S. president, with each photo covered in bubble wrap.
“You see his face…under bubble wrap and you just pop it, and it’s so satisfying,” said creator Babs Chute.
The cards are $10 each, and Chute said she has sold about 100.
She said her Trump-related feelings of anxiety are not because of his contradictory statements on NAFTA, but rather his war of words with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
“I came up with it last fall right around the Donald Trump rocket man diatribe, and they’ve been selling like hot cakes,” she said.
“I have really good friends on the West Coast, and the notion something could happen because of Donald Trump’s diatribe really knocks the wind out of me,”
Chute was busy pitching her creation to anti-NAFTA protesters on Saturday afternoon. But she could have new high-profile Canadian customers if this round of trade talks doesn’t go well.