U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, left, shakes hands with Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, accompanied by Mexico’s Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal, after they spoke at a news conference, at the start of NAFTA renegotiations in Washington. A round of NAFTA negotiations is about to start in a country that’s served as Donald Trump’s political whipping boy. Increasingly, there are indications Mexico is willing to whip back. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Trudeau Trump talk speedy NAFTA resolution in hurricane Harvey phone call

OTTAWA — Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau spoke Thursday about their hope to reach a deal by the end of this year on a new North American Free Trade Agreement.

The White House offered up that nugget in a Thursday readout from Washington on the phone call between the president and the prime minister over the deaths and destruction in Texas and Louisiana caused by hurricane Harvey.

“President Trump thanked Prime Minister Trudeau and the people of Canada for their offer of assistance and underscored the close ties between our two nations,” said the White House release.

“The two leaders also discussed the ongoing NAFTA renegotiation and stressed their hope to reach an agreement by the end of this year.”

There was no mention of the NAFTA discussion in the account of the conversation that was initially released by the Prime Minister’s Office. It said Trudeau offered Trump condolences over the damage caused by the torrential rains that have flooded vast swaths of Texas.

Trudeau’s office said later that it did not dispute the White House account. A senior government official, speaking only on condition they not be named, said the primary purpose of the call was to discuss the situation in Texas, and that NAFTA was mentioned only briefly at the end of the conversation.

A second round of NAFTA negotiations begins Friday in Mexico, but at the end of the first round in August, Canada, the U.S. and Mexico released a joint statement that suggested major issues needed to be dealt with in future talks.

Ideally, the three countries would like to finish their negotiations in the coming months before presidential election gets rolling in the spring and the mid-term U.S. congressional elections season arrives.

Ottawa trade consultant Adam Taylor, an aide to former Conservative trade minister Ed Fast, said it is Mexico and the U.S. that want a speedy resolution to the talks, not Canada.

“Both have elections on the horizon in 2018 and want to have NAFTA issues settled before politics takes over,” said Taylor.

“Canada is in far less need of a speedy outcome. In fact, history has shown Canada does well when it takes the time to get a deal that is in the country’s best interests.”

Taylor pointed to the lengthy negotiations of Canada’s free trade deals with Europe and South Korea, each of which took several years to complete.

On the eve of the Mexico City talks, the government announced the creation of a 10-person NAFTA environmental advisory council in order to strengthen environmental protection within the new pact.

“Canadians understand that the economy and the environment go hand in hand. Clean air and clean water know no boundaries, and they are top priorities for Canadians, Americans, and Mexicans,” Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said in a statement.

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