NAFTA talks intensify as Freeland, negotiators push hard for breakthrough

Analysts and insiders alike say the latest American-imposed deadline for Canada to join by Monday is not set in stone

NAFTA talks intensify as Freeland, negotiators push hard for breakthrough

Sources say Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and her team of negotiators are engaged in an intensive, late-stage effort to get Canada back into a trilateral trade deal with the United States and Mexico before Monday’s American-imposed deadline.

With the release of the text of the U.S.-Mexico trade agreement expected any day, and Mexico’s new president-elect pushing the American side to make a deal with Canada, the political pressure is mounting to get a new North American Free Trade Agreement done in short order.

Freeland, who will give Canada’s marquee speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Saturday, was on a conference call Friday night with negotiators in Washington, who have been engaged in intensive talks all week, a source familiar with the effort told The Canadian Press.

“The U.S. knows what they need to do to get a deal, so it’s really up to them,” said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity given the sensitive nature of the talks.

“We’re focused on the substance, not the timetable.”

Indeed, analysts and insiders alike say the latest American-imposed deadline for Canada to join by Monday is not set in stone, and that there will still be time for the Liberal government to negotiate with the Trump administration after that.

But they caution the window is closing and Canada’s time may be running out.

READ MORE: Trump dumps on Canada, says he rejected NAFTA meeting with Trudeau

READ MORE: Latest U.S. NAFTA deadline not firm

Mexico and the United States announced their own bilateral deal last month, sparking a renewed round of negotiations between Washington and Ottawa to bring Canada into the NAFTA fold.

The formal text needs to be released by Sunday so it can be presented to the U.S. Congress by the end of the month and fulfil a 60-day notice requirement that would allow lawmakers to approve it by Dec. 1 — before the newly-elected Mexican government takes power.

Some reports said it could come as early as Friday, but that likelihood was fading after Reuters reported that Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico’s president-elect, had said he’d agreed to call on the U.S. to reach an agreement with Canada.

Multiple sources told The Canadian Press the sticking points between Ottawa and Washington include dairy, preserving Canada’s cultural exemption and Canada’s insistence on preserving the Chapter 19, which allows for independent panels to resolve disputes involving companies and governments.

One source said Chapter 19 has not survived the Mexico-U.S. deal, but Chapter 20, the government-to-government dispute settlement mechanism, has been preserved in its entirety.

Mexican ambassador Dionisio Perez Jacome said his country still wants Canada to come on board, even if the deadline of the next few days comes and go.

“Hopefully Canada can be included already in the text. If not, then the process gets more complicated, but it’s also possible to come in … some days after,” Perez Jacome said.

Sources say Mexico is fine with the Trudeau government waiting past Monday’s Quebec election because it understands any concession it might be willing to make on allowing greater U.S. access to dairy would be a political bombshell in the final days of the provincial campaign.

A source close to the negotiations told The Canadian Press that the vast majority of the U.S.-Mexico text — more than 20 of its approximately 30 chapters — is not the least bit contentious for Canada.

That comes as no surprise to trade experts.

Laura Dawson, director of the Canada Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington, said major work has been completed on most of the chapters since Canada and the U.S. resumed talks.

“They are closer now than they’ve ever been. There’s a potential landing strip in all of the negotiated areas.”

Meredith Lilly, an international trade expert at Carleton University in Ottawa, said there’s virtually nothing in the text that will take Canadian negotiators by surprise.

“They should have seen the text by now as part of earlier negotiations, as well as more recent bilateral negotiations,” she said.

There’s no guarantee Congress would allow U.S. President Donald Trump to move forward with a two-country deal that excludes Canada because it originally granted him the authority to negotiate a three-country pact.

Sarah Goldfeder, a former U.S. diplomat based in Ottawa, said she’s not sure Trump actually wants a deal with Canada before the U.S. midterm elections in November, because periodically beating up on Canada and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a convenient channel-changer for a president beset by unfavourable news coverage.

“It’s a deflection from a number of different problems,” she said.

Trump says he will pursue a trade deal with or without Canada, and has repeatedly threatened to impose punitive tariffs on Canadian automobiles if a trilateral deal can’t be reached.

He has already imposed hefty steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico, using a section of U.S. trade law that gives him the authority to do that for national security reasons.

The Trudeau government has branded the tariffs illegal and insulting given the close security relationship between Canada and the U.S., including their shared membership in Norad, which defends North American airspace.

Mexico didn’t win any relief from the U.S. on the tariffs in their deal, but Canada is pushing hard for it in the current negotiations.

“It will be really hard for negotiators to bring a deal back to Canada and say ‘I think we got a pretty good deal, but we didn’t get a release from these national security tariffs’,” said Dawson.

“That’s going to make it very difficult to sell a deal at home.”

— With files from James McCarten in Washington, D.C., and Dan Healing in Banff, Alta.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Okanagan’s first virtual wedding fair will be held Saturday, March 27. {Paul Rodgers photo)
Okanagan to host virtual wedding fair

Okanagan wine country is No. 1 destination for weddings - online event set for March 27

Allison O’Neil. (Phil McLachlan, Kelowna Capital News)
Okanagan College prof encourages women to excel in math and science

Allison O’Neil is works in the engineering department at the Kelowna campus

Kelowna Fire Department members are cleaning up a two-vehicle collision on Harvey Avenue at Dilworth Drive Sunday afternoon, Feb. 28. (Michael Rodriguez - Kelowna Capital News)
Kelowna crews clear up highway collision

Two vehicles involved in incident at Dilworth Drive and Harvey Avenue

(Contributed)
Kelowna flight potentially exposed to COVID-19

Third case on a local flight this month, compared to 14 through January

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Wills Hodgkinson, 10, and his mom Neeley Brimer get ready to battle round three of cancer. The community of Penticton has his back. (Submitted)
Community raises $21K to help Penticton boy battle third round of cancer

Okanoggin Barbers held the fundraiser on Saturday for 10-year-old Wills Hodgkinson

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
UPDATE: 70-year-old man killed in workplace accident at Baldy Mountain

The mountain closed on Saturday but has partially re-opened today (Sunday)

Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Chase RCMP held two men involved in drunken disturbances overnight in their detachment’s cells on Feb. 6. (File Photo)
Chase RCMP hold two men involved in drunken disturbances overnight

The two separate incidents took place less than an hour apart.

Most Read