Canada outlines goals for NAFTA 2.0

OTTAWA — Chrystia Freeland has given Canadians a peek at their government’s strategy as it prepares to go nose-to-nose with the country’s biggest trading partner in crucial NAFTA talks.

The foreign affairs minister laid out Ottawa’s core objectives Monday, two days before negotiations on a new North American Free Trade Agreement are set to begin.

The Canadian list, far shorter than the one released last month by the United States, sets out a half-dozen goals that involve playing both offence and defence.

They include opening more access to government procurement, freeing up professional mobility, protecting Canadian rights to supply management and reform of the investor-state dispute settlement process to ensure governments maintain their right to regulate in the public interest.

“As in any trade negotiation, we have some areas of our offensive interests, areas where we think the agreement can be strengthened and improved,” Freeland said after outlining her goals in a speech.

“And we have some areas where we believe the agreement currently serves its purpose and areas that need to be preserved in the national interest.”

Freeland also announced the government’s plan to push for new “progressive” elements in NAFTA 2.0: stronger labour standards, tougher environmental protection provisions as well as chapters on gender and Indigenous rights — areas in which she believes Canada can find common ground with the U.S. and Mexico.

Negotiators plan to use provisions from Canada’s recently negotiated trade agreements with the European Union and Chile as guidelines for these chapters, Freeland said.

“Progressive elements are also important if you want a free-trade deal that’s also a fair-trade deal,” she said in a question-and-answer session following a speech at the University of Ottawa.

Canada also aims to cut down on bureaucracy and harmonize regulations to ease the flow of cross-border business.

The negotiating team will also work to maintain key elements of the 23-year-old deal, including the dispute resolution process to ensure anti-dumping and countervailing duties are only applied when truly warranted.

Freeland warned that Canadians should brace for some tense exchanges during the NAFTA talks.

“I think we all do need to be prepared for some moments of drama,” she said. “We should just see that as an expected part of any trade negotiations.”

Canadian negotiators will sit down with their American and Mexican counterparts Wednesday in Washington for the first round of talks.

Last month, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer released the Trump administration’s set of priorities for the NAFTA talks. The list was 14 pages long and included specific goals and demands.

By comparison, the Canadian list was far more succinct and featured only about 10 objectives.

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