Freeland, Lighthizer reconvene in Washington as NAFTA talks reach critical stage

Freeland, Lighthizer reconvene in Washington as NAFTA talks reach critical stage

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Trade Representative says Canada has made no concessions to the United States on the thorny issue of dairy access as talks grind on towards today’s deadline to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In a written statement, the USTR says the talks with Canada continue but “there have been no concessions by Canada on agriculture.”

Similarly, Canadian officials tell The Canadian Press today that expectations that a NAFTA deal is imminent are exaggerated and premature.

The sobering assessment comes as Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland is back at the NAFTA table in Washington this morning with today’s deadline looming over the talks to bring Canada back into the North American free-trade fold.

Freeland has been in meetings all week with her American counterpart, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, both of whom met late into the evening Thursday in search of a compromise in time for the deadline imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Freeland says she is looking forward to hearing what Lighthizer has to say today, after a night of reflection.

This week’s new round of U.S.-Canada negotiations had generated hopeful signals from both camps that a deal could be struck by the end of the week — but difficult discussions about dairy and dispute settlement remain.

Trump has repeatedly criticized Canada’s dairy industry and has used the threat of tariffs of autos to push for concessions. But Canada’s dairy industry is adamant that it won’t stand for the government allowing the U.S. any more market access, saying it has compromised enough on past trade deals with the European Union and Pacific Rim countries.

Another lingering sticking point is Chapter 19 — the so-called dispute resolution mechanism. The U.S. wants it out of the deal, but Canada says it must be included.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a conference call Thursday with premiers to discuss trade-offs, and in a statement said the federal government was committed to winning the best possible terms for Canada.

The Canadian Press