NAFTA talks between the U.S. and Canada broke off Friday afternoon with no agreement on how the 24-year-old trade pact will be structured in the future, and whether a revised agreement will include Canada at all, or just be a bilateral pact with Mexico. The U.S. said the talks will continue Wednesday.
Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland stressed optimism to reporters in a press conference at the Canadian embassy in Washington after talks ended for the week.
“We’re continuing to work very hard and we are making progress,” she said. “We’re not there yet.”
Neither Freeland or USTR officials would comment on specifics in the talks, but U.S. demands for increased access to Canada’s dairy market and increased NAFTA-origin car parts in autos are a couple of the sticking points in the talks that went late into the night Thursday and restarted Friday morning.
Freeland said the U.S. and Canada have come closer on the auto parts issue.
When asked if Canada could even consider giving up its dairy supply management system, she responded vaguely: “The Canadian national interest and Canadian values are at the core of our negotiating approach and … priorities. The core Canadian positions are well known I think by everyone and certainly by our negotiating partners.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said President Trump has notified Congress of his intent to sign the trade agreement reached last week with Mexico 90 days from now, just before new president Andrés Manuel López Obrador is sworn in. Lighthizer said Canada would be able to join the pact, “if it is willing.”
The USTR must turn over completed text for the entire pact to Congress within 30 days, U.S. government officials said.
“I strongly urge Canada to engage in the negotiations with renewed energy, and I expect the Administration to engage with Congress as it continues negotiating with Canada,” said Rep. Dave Reichert, R – Wash., who is chairman of the Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee. “We are stronger and more successful together, and I look forward to reaching agreement on an updated agreement that includes all three countries and benefits American farmers, workers, and businesses."
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As to the timeline for Canada, Freeland stressed that the country will not be rushed into a deal.
“For Canada the focus is on getting a good deal and once we have a good deal for Canada, we’ll be done,” she said.
“The agreement is the most advanced and high-standard trade agreement in the world,” Lighthizer said in a statement. “Over the next few weeks, Congress and cleared advisors from civil society and the private sector will be able to examine the agreement. They will find it has huge benefits for our workers, farmers, ranchers, and businesses.”
The talks in Washington may have been affected by a press report that Trump had said the U.S. was in total command of the talks and that he would make no compromise to reach a deal.
The Toronto Star reported Friday that Trump, in an interview with Bloomberg News, said the U.S. is unwilling to make concessions and that his position was "going to be so insulting they're [Canada] not going to be able to make a deal." Trump didn’t deny making the remarks, which were supposed to be off the record.
“Oh well, just more dishonest reporting. I am used to it. At least Canada knows where I stand!" he tweeted.
But Freeland stressed that the talks this week at USTR headquarters, just a stone’s throw from the White House, were not impacted by Trump.
“My negotiating partner is Ambassador Lighthizer and … he has brought good faith and good will to the table. It’s going to take flexibility on all sides to get a deal at the end.”
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