Canada-U.S. NAFTA talks could bump up against midnight deadline

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Canada-U.S. NAFTA talks could bump up against midnight deadline


OTTAWA—Canadian and U.S. officials worked late into the evening Sunday in a drive to come up with a legal agreement that would allow Canada to join Mexico in a three-way free trade pact with the United States.

By early evening it appeared high-level talks would bump right up against, and maybe past, a midnight deadline that the U.S. insisted needed to be met to deliver a new NAFTA agreement to Congress.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland and Gerald Butts, senior political advisor to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in the loading dock of the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council, in Ottawa on Sunday.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland and Gerald Butts, senior political advisor to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in the loading dock of the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council, in Ottawa on Sunday.  (JUSTIN TANG / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Without Canada’s signature, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has said he would present a bilateral U.S.-Mexico agreement to Congress and keep talking to Canada.

Canadian government officials and outside stakeholders from industry and labour groups who were consulted throughout a weekend of intense talks said negotiators had made “progress” Sunday on key points that had been in dispute.

But there were conflicting statements about whether an announcement could be made by midnight.

“Not done yet,” said one senior Canadian source at 6:30 p.m.

“Lots of progress, but we’re not there yet,” Canada’s ambassador to Washington, David MacNaughton, told reporters. “It’s never done until its done.”

It was unclear whether Canada had secured an exemption from punishing 25-per-cent auto tariffs that U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened against Canadian auto imports, or merely won a limit on the number of autos that could be subject to tariffs once a certain quota of tariff-free vehicles was reached.

Nor was it clear what, if any, guarantee Canada would get that current 25-per-cent steel and 10-per-cent aluminum tariffs that have already dinged Canadian exports would be lifted.

Canada has until now insisted it would not give ground on its key demand for a robust, independent rules-based dispute resolution system for trade disagreements. There were reports Sunday evening that the U.S. was prepared to concede on this point.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was “involved” with the negotiations through the weekend, said one source. Trudeau tweeted he reached out to the chief executives leading Canada’s Big Five banks to “touch base on NAFTA negotiations.”

“My thanks for your advice and support,” Trudeau posted in a statement on Twitter, stating he’d spoken to David McKay, president and CEO of the Royal Bank of Canada; Victor Dodig, CIBC president and CEO; Scotiabank president and CEO Brian Porter; BMO financial group CEO Darryl White and TD president and CEO Bharat Masrani.

Reuters reported Sunday that Lighthizer and White House adviser Jared Kushner planned to brief Trump on Sunday.

Congress gave Trump’s administration authority to renegotiate a trilateral continental free trade pact, which requires a 60-day notice and publication of the text of any agreement. The U.S. reached an agreement-in-principle with Mexico in late August and wants it approved before the Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto leaves office Nov. 30. That date set the Sept. 30 deadline in motion.

Earlier Sunday, one of Trump’s senior trade advisers, Peter Navarro, told Fox News that Canada’s positions on dairy sector regulations and on international dispute resolution remained among “several sticking points,” but suggested that disagreements over digital intellectual property and certain pharmaceutical protections had been largely resolved.

Navarro predicted Monday morning would bring “big and perhaps market-moving” news.

“Everybody’s negotiating in good faith right now as we speak and the deadline is midnight tonight to get the text in to Congress in order to make sure this goes forward,” said Navarro. “So it’s either going to be the text goes in with Mexico and the U.S. or the text goes in with all three countries.”

With a file from The Associated Press





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