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.

Just Posted

Dancers from the Sts’ailes First Nation perform the eagle dance at a welcome banner dedication ceremony on Thursday, June 10. “Ey Swayel” is a Halq̓eméylem term translated as ‘a good day.’ (Adam Louis/Observer)
VIDEO: ‘A good day’ for Agassiz school as Sts’ailes welcome banner is dedicated

Banner hangs above the school’s entrance, welcoming students, staff and visitors

Missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs was found deceased on Thursday evening (June 17).
Body of missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs found

Hobbs was reported missing Monday after leaving his job site in Langley

UFV athletes were honoured for their strength and perseverance during the pandemic. (UFV photo)
Fraser Valley athletes recognized in year without sports

UFV Cascades athletes honoured for strength shown during the pandemic

Abbotsford council has given permission for Chilliwack to use the JAMES wastewater treatment plant for the disposal of trucked liquid waste until the end of September.
Chilliwack gets exemption to Abbotsford bylaw prohibiting liquid waste from other cities

Process in place until September while new facility under construction in Chilliwack

There were a total of 182 deaths of trumpeter swans at Judson Lake over the past winter, according to the Save the Swans website. The lake has the heaviest lead concentration of any known lake, the website states. (PHOTO: savetheswans.ca)
Abbotsford man starts petition, saying lead shot is killing waterfowl in Judson Lake and beyond

Farmer Kevin Sinclair says local lake is ‘poster child’ for swans’ deaths from lead poisoning

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

British Columbia’s premier says he’s received a second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. (Twitter/John Horgan)
B.C. premier gets 2nd dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

John Horgan shared a photo of himself on social media Friday afternoon holding a completed vaccination card

A lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018.THE CANADIAN PRESS
No winning ticket sold for Friday’s $70 million Lotto Max jackpot

The huge jackpot has remained unclaimed for several weeks now

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 charged, suspect at large in killings of B.C. brothers linked to gang activity: RCMP

Kamloops brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May on a remote Okanagan road

Albert Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveil an opening sign after speaking about the Open for Summer Plan and next steps in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta 1st province in Canada to lift all COVID-19 public health restrictions

70.2% of eligible citizens 12 and older in the province have received a dose of the vaccine

Fraser Health registered nurse Ramn Manan draws a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a walk-up vaccination clinic at Bear Creek Park, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Honour our fathers’ with COVID-19 vaccine protection, B.C. urges

109 new cases Friday, 75 per cent of 12 and up immunized

(Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Trutch Avenue in Chilliwack to be renamed to remove racist taint

New name to have Indigenous significance as Chilliwack takes new step toward reconciliation

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

Most Read