WASHINGTON—Canada and the U.S. have been engaged in “intense” NAFTA talks all week, a Canadian official said Friday, as they strived to reach a deal before the U.S. and Mexico started an official countdown to the possible signing of a deal that does not include Canada.
Canada received support from the incoming president of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who said he wanted the agreement to remain trilateral and that Mexico would not “turn our back on Canada.”
The U.S. and Mexico delayed the planned Friday publication of the text of their own two-country accord, which would have started the 60-day countdown, because of the renewed effort between the U.S. and Canada to reach a three-country accord, Mexican Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo said.
Guajardo said they would know within 48 hours, by Sunday, whether there was a trilateral deal or not. Sunday is the non-binding deadline the U.S. has imposed on Canada before it publishes the text.
Caution is warranted. Previous U.S. deadlines have come and gone without consequences, and President Donald Trump’s trade chief, Robert Lighthizer, said Tuesday that negotiations with Canada would continue even if the text of a Mexico-only deal were released.
A Canadian official expressed optimism about the prospects for a deal, but that official said they have always been optimistic.
“I think we’ll get there in the end. The end could be this weekend, or it may not be,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive negotiations.
Trump’s officials have argued that they need to publish the text by Sunday in order to let the outgoing Mexican president, Enrique Pena Nieto, sign the deal by his last full day in office, Nov. 30, and avoid the possibility that Lopez Obrador will demand changes. But Lopez Obrador promised to stick to the preliminary deal to which Mexico has already agreed.
Canada would not necessarily be kicked out of NAFTA even if the Sunday deadline were missed and the U.S.-Mexico text released. Canada could potentially be added in at a later date, before the U.S. Congress holds a vote to ratify the agreement that does not include Canada.
The current three-country NAFTA will remain in effect until the legislatures of the countries involved in any new deal vote to approve it. It is not clear whether Congress would be willing to grant approval to a U.S.-Mexico deal, under either Republican or Democratic control.
Daniel Dale is the Star’s Washington bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @ddale8