News Briefs

U.S. and Canada negotiate USMCA

Negotiations between the United States and Canada to restructure the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) finished just hours before the self-imposed deadline of midnight on Sunday, Sept. 30. Officials in Washington and Ottawa reached a deal now called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) (The Hill, “US, Canada strike NAFTA deal, Trump takes victory lap, but Congress must weigh in,” 10.01.2018).

Since 2017, the Trump administration has worked to modify the 1994 agreement, levying tariffs against Canada to increase pressure on removing trade barriers. President Trump himself made the repeal of NAFTA a campaign promise during the 2016 election (NPR, “What Comes Afta NAFTA,” 10.04.2018).

Less than a week before the deadline, U.S. officials were considering leaving Canada out of the deal after 13 months of negotiation. On Sept. 25, U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer said that the administration would ask Congress to approve a deal with only Mexico, given a failure to reach a decision over the weekend (The Washington Post, “U.S. all but certain to miss weekend deadline to include Canada in threeway NAFTA deal,” 09.25.2018).

Beyond his openness to excluding Canada, Trump also threatened a 25 percent auto exports tariff. Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland traveled between Ottawa and Washington throughout September to discuss trade, but Trump’s previous tariffs remain in place (The Hill, “Five things to know about the new NAFTA,” 10.01.2018).

The dairy industry has shaped much of the debate between the United States and Canada. The latter’s system of regulations that prevent dairy surplus and maintain sustainable prices limited U.S. access to the Canadian market (CNBC, “New NAFTA falls short of ‘more ambitious goals’ for agribusiness, says CoBank report,” 10.05.2018). Canada succeeded in retaining Chapter 19, a concession from U.S. officials. The provision grants Canada access to a process to resolve trade disputes instead of taking cases to U.S. courts (The Washington Post, “U.S., Canada and Mexico just reached a sweeping new NAFTA deal. Here’s what’s in it,” 10.01.2018).

While Canada has responded to the United States by taxing products such as beef, thus limiting exportation, the Trump administration’s slew of tariffs against Canada and China continue to affect the domestic market of multiple industries (CNBC, “New NAFTA falls short”) (Politico, “Trump tariffs sting farmers, businesses from sea to shining sea,” 08.01.2018).

The largest changes that USMCA brings target the auto industry. In practice, the USMCA benefits for agriculture in the U.S. “will continue to be overshadowed by the remaining retaliatory tariffs imposed by Mexico and Canada” (CNBC, “New NAFTA falls short”).

The gains in the auto industry came from the United States’ bargaining for a $16 per hour minimum for auto industry workers. The move was intended to offset Mexico’s lower wages and drive markets into the United States. The deal also requires that 75 percent of the parts making up cars and trucks come from U.S., Canadian or Mexican manufacturers for the vehicles to qualify for exception from tariffs. Auto industry shares such as Ford and General Motors rose on Monday following the agreement (Reuters, “NAFTA replacement deal lifts Dow, S&P; Nasdaq negative,” 10.01.2018).

Congress and agencies in both Canada and Mexico still need to sign off on USMCA (The Washington Post, “U.S. all but certain to miss”).

With the possibility of Democrats gaining seats in November and prominent Republicans such as Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) remaining critical of Trump’s broader economic policies, USMCA still is not a done deal (The Hill, “Corker says he has concerns with new NAFTA deal,” 10.03.2018).

Chicago jury convicts Van Dyke

[TW: This article discusses police violence and death.]

On Oct. 20, 2014, six seconds after leaving his patrol car, Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke fired 16 shots into 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Thirty seconds later, another patrol car arrived with officers equipped with tasers. McDonald’s death has been a topic in Chicago politics and debates over police violence against Black communities ever since. Last Friday, Oct. 5, after less than eight hours of deliberation, a jury found Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery (The New York Times, “‘Justice for Laquan!’ Demonstrators chant, as Chicago officer is convicted of murder,” 10.05.2018) (MSNBC, “Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke found guilty of second-degree murder in fatal shooting of black teen Laquan McDonald,” 10.05.2018).

A dashcam in one of the patrol cars captured each of the shots, footage on which the jury relied in their deliberations. Some jurors believed that Van Dyke was guilty based on the way he continued to walk toward and fire at McDonald’s body even after the teenager had gone limp and was lying curled in the street. For the jurors, the footage did not support Van Dyke’s depiction of Laquan as threatening (The New York Times, “‘We just didn’t buy it’: Jury was unswayed by officer’s story in Laquan McDonald case,” 10.06.2018).

This same footage also drew national attention to the case 13 months after McDonald’s death. A judge ordered the release of the footage, and three Chicago police officers were indicted in 2017 on charges of conspiracy to cover up Van Dyke’s actions (The Washington Post, “Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke convicted of second-degree murder,” 10.05.2018).

The case has drawn criticism from police unions that claim officers have to be prepared to use deadly force. As President of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Chris Southwood said, “This sham trial and shameful verdict is a message…that it’s not the perpetrator in front of you that you need to worry about, it’s the political operatives stabbing you in the back” (The New York Times, “‘Justice for Laquan!’”).

For the hundreds of people marching outside the court on Friday, that widespread message is a necessary corrective. Aislinn Pulley, an organizer and founder of Black Lives Matter in Chicago, called the conviction a historic moment: “[It is rare that an officer is] held accountable for murdering a black person in this city.” Van Dyke is the first Chicago police officer convicted of murder while on duty in nearly 50 years (The Washington Post, “Chicago police officer convicted”).

Joseph McMahon, the prosecutor appointed to McDonald’s case, was aware of the tense situation of the trial and its place in the national spotlight, but stated, “If we allowed those other issues to kind of creep into the case, it would dilute what Jason Van Dyke did that night.”

Still, the jury was divided over the murder charge. While Van Dyke’s shots constituted aggravated battery, which holds a stricter sentence than does second-degree murder, McMahon admitted that he was aware of protesters threatening large-scale protests if the verdict did not include the word “murder” (Chicago Tribune, “Under intense pressure, special prosecutor McMahon scores career-defining win with Van Dyke’s conviction,” 10.07.2018).

Van Dyke could face a maximum of 20 years in prison for the murder charge; each battery charge calls for between six and 30 years. He is scheduled to receive sentencing on Oct. 31 (The Washington Post, “Chicago police officer convicted”).

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