Freeland Resumes NAFTA Talks in Washington as Congress Grows Restless

September 19, 2018 Updated: September 19, 2018

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland is back in Washington—and back in search of a way to bridge the divide that’s keeping Canada out of a new North American free trade pact.

Freeland flew back to the U.S. capital Sept. 18 as a prominent congressional ally of President Donald Trump made it clear that American lawmakers are growing weary of what they see as Canadian intransigence.

House of Representatives majority whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) is warning of “growing frustration” on Capitol Hill with what he calls Canada’s “negotiating tactics.”

Trade observers say that while many in Congress want Canada to be part of a three-way trade deal, they may not be willing to sacrifice an agreement in principle between Mexico and the United States negotiated earlier this year.

That deal is widely seen to require congressional approval before Dec. 1 in order to survive the arrival of an incoming Mexican government whose supporters have mixed feelings about the deal.

Canada, meanwhile, has been pushing back against deadlines declared by the Trump administration—first the end of August, then the end of September.

“While we would all like to see Canada remain part of this three-country coalition, there is not an unlimited amount of time for it to be part of this new agreement,” Scalise said in a statement.

“Mexico negotiated in good faith and in a timely manner, and if Canada does not co-operate in the negotiations, Congress will have no choice but to consider options about how best to move forward and stand up for American workers.”

Freeland said Canada has been negotiating in good faith throughout the process, which is about to enter its 14th month.

“From the outset of these modernization negotiations, Canada has been extremely co-operative,” she said on Sept. 18. “Canada is very good at negotiating trade deals. Canada is very good at finding creative compromises. We have been extremely engaged.”

Negotiators have been working “extremely hard” and are committed to doing the necessary work to reach an agreement, she added—but they aren’t about to settle for just any agreement.

“It’s my duty to stand up for the national interest and I will always do that.”

Trump, for his part, sounded a familiar note, accusing Canada of having long taken advantage of the United States even as he sang the praises of his country’s northern neighbour.

“We love Canada. We love it,” he told a news conference. “Love the people of Canada, but they are in a position that is not a good position for Canada. They cannot continue to charge us 300 percent tariff on dairy products, and that’s what they’re doing.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed to protect Canada’s so-called supply management system for dairy and poultry products against U.S. demands for greater access by its farmers to Canada’s dairy market. Sources say Canada has offered some limited concessions on access while also ring-fencing the system itself.

Supply management has been a big issue in the provincial election campaign in Quebec, home to about half of Canada’s dairy farms. Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard has warned there will be “serious political consequences” if there is any further dismantling of the protections for dairy farmers through NAFTA negotiations.

That has some trade watchers suspicious that Ottawa may be trying to get past Oct. 1, which is election day in Quebec, as well as a congressional deadline.

From The Canadian Press

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