NAFTA talks with U.S. вЂ?constructive,вЂ™ Freeland says as pressure mounts from Trump, Congress
CanadaвЂ™s foreign minister said ongoing trade talks with the U.S. remain вЂњconstructiveвЂќ and that both sides are expected to offer new ideas when they reconvene later on Wednesday.
Chrystia Freeland, CanadaвЂ™s lead NAFTA minister, met with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Washington after a series of back-to-back meetings last week failed to yield an agreement. The U.S. has said Canada can still join a preliminary pact it struck with Mexico to replace NAFTA, before the agreement is signed in late-November.
Officials held discussions on Wednesday over вЂњa number of issuesвЂќ and now the negotiating teams will meet individually and вЂњcome back with fresh ideas later this afternoon,вЂќ Freeland told reporters outside LighthizerвЂ™s offices in Washington.
U.S. President Donald Trump is threatening to exclude Canada from a new NAFTA and proceed with Mexico only, despite pushback from members of Congress and powerful business groups. Those constituents have also expressed concern that Trump will intensify a trade war with Beijing this week by announcing tariffs on US$200 billion of Chinese goods.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking Tuesday, singled out two issues as important for his country вЂ” maintaining some form of anti-dumping dispute panel and an exemption to protect cultural industries.
вЂњWeвЂ™ve been very clear that there are a number of things that we absolutely must see,вЂќ Trudeau said. вЂњNo NAFTA is better than a bad NAFTA deal for Canadians.вЂќ
Freeland, speaking on Wednesday, echoed TrudeauвЂ™s views and added that CanadaвЂ™s вЂњgoal is to protect the national interest and Canadian identity.вЂќ
Though the U.S. president often threatens to withdraw from NAFTA, the latest pledges are piling up pressure on negotiators who are trying to wrap up more than a year of talks and strike a deal that could be signed before Dec. 1.
The White House on Friday gave Congress a required 90-day notification that it would be signing a revised version of NAFTA with Mexico and would include Canada only вЂњif it is willing.вЂќ Under congressional rules for passing trade pacts, the administration must publicly release text of the agreement 60 days before any signing, meaning wrapping up the U.S.-Canada negotiations this month could put everything back on track.
But Trump seems unconcerned about the timeframe. вЂњThere is no political necessity to keep Canada in the new NAFTA deal,вЂќ he wrote on Twitter over the weekend. вЂњIf we donвЂ™t make a fair deal for the U.S. after decades of abuse, Canada will be out. Congress should not interfere.вЂќ
The presidentвЂ™s comments came a day after Democrat Ron Wyden, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee that oversees trade, criticized the administration for excluding Canada from its Nafta deal.
вЂњYou canвЂ™t fix NAFTA without fixing issues with Canada,вЂќ Wyden said in a separate statement Tuesday, adding that Congress has вЂњauthority over trade вЂ” the president cannot pull America out of NAFTA without CongressвЂ™s permission.вЂќ
Sticking points in NAFTA talk include AmericaвЂ™s demand for access to CanadaвЂ™s highly protected dairy sector, as well as the Trudeau administrationвЂ™s push to preserve a dispute-resolution mechanism that the White House wants to dismantle. Canada also wants to maintain exemptions for the cultural sector, with Trudeau saying on Tuesday that the exemption вЂњmust standвЂќ because, for instance, he wouldnвЂ™t want to see Canadian television networks swallowed up.
вЂњIt would be a giving up of our sovereignty and our identity, and that is something we simply will not accept,вЂќ he said of the cultural exemption. On the dispute panels, he called it a matter of fairness. вЂњWe need a dispute resolution mechanism,вЂќ he said, adding: вЂњWe will hold firm on that.вЂќ
If neither side budges, itвЂ™s unclear whether Trump can withdraw from NAFTA without congressional approval, though the president has said he can do so unilaterally. Under terms of the original pact, any leader can pull their nation out after giving six monthsвЂ™ written notice.
Congress could help determine who has leverage in this weekвЂ™s bilateral talks. If lawmakers stay mum on the threat of excluding Canada from NAFTA, Trudeau could feel pressure to make concessions. But if American lawmakers insist that Trump include his northern neighbour, U.S. negotiators may feel the need to make a deal with Ottawa.
While Canada is clearly under pressure from Trump, вЂњitвЂ™s not clear sailing on his part either,вЂќ Paul Heinbecker, a former Canadian diplomat and now a distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ontario, told BNN Bloomberg Television on Tuesday.
вЂ“With assistance from Shawn Donnan and Erik Wasson.