Free-trade father figure Mulroney urges Ottawa to make a deal on NAFTA

WASHINGTON — Brian Mulroney says Canada needs to put a little more water in its milk if it expects to make a new NAFTA deal with a hard-bargaining U.S. president whose political fortunes depend heavily on being able to declare victory for American dairy farmers.

Mulroney, the former prime minister widely considered the father of the modern era of North American free trade, held court Tuesday in Ottawa on the fate of the intercontinental trade pact as talks to modernize NAFTA resumed on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Mulroney said Justin Trudeau phoned him last weekend to discuss the NAFTA situation and the two spoke for an hour. Overall, he said, he believes Canada is handling the talks well.

But he had a clear message for the prime minister: if the federal Liberal government wants to make a deal, it better start dealing — particularly on the issue of access to Canadian markets for U.S. dairy producers, a critical issue for U.S. President Donald Trump.

“There is not going to be a deal — period — unless there is a compromise in that area because that is what he campaigned on and it’s stuck to him and he’s stuck with it,” Mulroney said.

“So if we don’t find some way to accommodate some of that, then we’re not going to have a deal.”

Trudeau has been signalling in recent days that Canada might be prepared to show some flexibility there.

“There’s a range of things we’ve been firm on and will continue to be firm on, but there’s also things we’re looking to be flexible on because it’s time to update this deal after 25 years,” he said in an interview with Winnipeg radio station CJOB.

“We’re just going to stay working constructively to get to that win, win, win that we know is there.”

Mulroney acknowledged U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is on a short leash from the White House when it comes to what he can offer in the talks, but noted that Trump trusts Lighthizer a lot.

“If Ambassador Lighthizer goes to the president in the Oval Office and says, ‘Mr. President, I recommend we accept this deal with Canada; it’s not perfect, but it’s a good deal,’ then I think he takes it,’” Mulroney said.

“He has great confidence and trust in Lighthizer. That I know for sure, right from the horse’s mouth.”

Lighthizer and Canadian counterpart Chrystia Freeland returned to the negotiating table for one day Tuesday before she jetted off to Saskatoon to brief the prime minister at this week’s caucus gathering, which wraps up Thursday.

True to form, when asked about Mulroney’s remarks, the foreign affairs minister refused to say anything publicly about the discussions around the table for fear of undermining what she described as a cordial and productive atmosphere.

“That has been the right decision,” Freeland said late Tuesday of the mutual agreement to avoid publicly disclosing details of the talks.

“Not negotiating in public has helped us to have the kind of frank and candid conversations we need to have around the table, and crucially, it has helped to build that trust and goodwill and good faith on both sides.”

Earlier in the day, she noted that Tuesday was the 17th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to drive home a point about the long-standing relationship between the two countries.

“Maybe that helps us all put into perspective the negotiations that we’re having — and also put into a little bit of historical perspective the importance and the significance of the relationship between Canada and the United States,” she said of the anniversary.

“At the end of the day, we’re neighbours — and at the end of the day, neighbours help each other when they need help.”

On Canadian soil, U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft was expressing much the same sentiment.

Craft, a fixture at the NAFTA talks last week, was in Gander, N.L., to commemorate the role that town played on the day 17 years ago when the United States shut down its airspace, forcing countless passenger airliners to find refuge wherever they could.

“Forget what you read about NAFTA negotiations and Twitter wars, that’s not who we are,” Craft told the gathered crowd as she thanked Canada — and Gander — for playing host in 2001 to countless stranded American air passengers.

“Sure, it’s business and it’s important, but Gander is the place that — in a snapshot — illustrates the Canada-U.S. relationship.”

Ottawa and Washington are trying to reach an agreement that could be submitted to the U.S. Congress by month’s end. A deal would see Canada join a preliminary trade agreement the Trump administration struck last month with Mexico.

The U.S. has said it plans to present Congress with the deal it has with Mexico if Canada doesn’t get on board. But a deal without Canada has virtually no chance of being passed, Mulroney said.

“If (Trump) goes to Congress with a bilateral arrangement with Mexico, he’s got problems — real problems,” Mulroney said. ”He doesn’t need any more problems, particularly when he’s going into an election campaign with a vote in November that could be extremely challenging for him.”

— with files from Andy Blatchford and Mike Blanchfield in Ottawa

— Follow James McCarten on Twitter @CdnPressStyle

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

UPDATE: Seven-year-old dies and her mother and two brothers are injured in trailer fire

Fire started shortly after 1 a.m. and took four hours to put out

Racist videos targeting Maskwacis are under investigation

Video images of what appears to be teenagers issuing racist and sexist… Continue reading

Red Deer County residents decry lack of public consultation over ‘enormous’ river water withdrawals

Noise, light, diesel emission complaints were made to the Alberta Energy Regulator

Woman no longer co-accused in 2019 Red Deer murder

Preliminary hearing of co-accused in murder began on Friday and resumes next month

Red Deer Mayor says city council’s advocacy isn’t over with shelter and hospital funding gains

Additional Crown prosecutors are still at the top of Tara Veer’s list

Fashion Fridays: Tammy’s big makeover

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Your community calendar

Feb. 19 A Liberation of Holland event is being held at the… Continue reading

Canadian-Indians worry for their families as riots break out in India

Naila Saeed could do nothing but worry from afar when rioters descended… Continue reading

Public health agency weighs stronger COVID-19 protection for front-line workers

OTTAWA — The Public Health Agency of Canada says it will consult… Continue reading

Ukraine pledges help for airline compensation for Iran plane crash victims

OTTAWA — Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada says his government will help Foreign… Continue reading

Saskatchewan premier won’t commit to fall election; cites national unrest

ESTEVAN, Sask. — Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says rail blockades and the… Continue reading

Suspect charged with first-degree murder in death of 13-year-old Quebec girl

ST-JEROME, Que. — Friends and family of a teenage girl whose body… Continue reading

Tories call on government to compensate dairy farmers ‘left behind’ in new NAFTA

OTTAWA — The Conservative opposition says the government must compensate dairy farmers… Continue reading

Red Deer Construction Association honours local builders

5th annual Commercial Construction Awards took place on Thursday evening

Most Read