The Trump administration’s insistence that Canada agree to add a five-year sunset clause to the North American Free Trade Agreement dashed the potential for a high-level meeting in Washington that could have resulted in a final deal, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday.
Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa that he called President Donald Trump last Friday with an offer to come to Washington on Tuesday this week. Vice President Mike Pence called him back, he said, and told the prime minister that the meeting could not happen unless Trudeau would agree to the U.S. demands for a sunset clause.
“There was the broad lines of a decent win-win-win deal on the table that I thought required a final deal-making moment,” Trudeau said. “If they were able to take that (precondition) off, I would be happy to come down, but that was not something that could ever be acceptable to Canada or … Mexico in the negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.”
The sunset clause proposal – a concept pressed emphatically during talks this year by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross - would dissolve NAFTA after five years unless the three countries acted unanimously to keep it going. It has been broadly panned by Canada, Mexico and U.S. ag groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation. AFBF delegates voted to adopt policy that opposes the sunset provision proposal because of the uncertainty it would create between exporters and importers.
There is already a provision in NAFTA that allows any of the three countries to pull out of the pact after a six-month notification.
Despite the failed attempt for final talks this week, Trudeau said Canada is still willing to keep working on rewriting the trade pact.
“We continue to be open to working on a renewed and modernized NAFTA,” he said. “We will continue to sit down at the negotiating table.”