Trudeau says Liberals looking for right NAFTA deal despite looming deadline

SASKATOON — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau brushed aside pressure for his government to finalize a renewed free trade deal with the United States by month’s end, commenting hours before Mexico piled on more pressure by saying they are also willing to cut Canada out of the pact.

Ottawa and Washington are working to reach an agreement that needs to be submitted to the U.S. Congress by Oct. 1 in order to join the deal the Trump administration signed with Mexico in August.

Trudeau says Canada’s negotiators have seen multiple deadlines imposed on talks, only to see negotiations continue long past them.

Speaking to reporters at a caucus retreat, the prime minister said negotiators will work to finalize an agreement before the end of the month, but plan to make sure they get the right deal for Canadians, not just any deal.

“We have seen various deadlines put forward as markers to work for,” Trudeau said.

“We’re going to continue to work towards the right deal for Canadians, a good deal for Canadians, and we’ll do the work needed and try and get there as quick as we can, but we’re going to make sure we’re doing what is necessary to get the right deal for Canadians.”

Trump has indicated he would be quite happy to go forward on a deal with Mexico alone, and while Mexico has insisted it wants Canada to be in the plan, Mexican chief negotiator Kenneth Smith Ramos tweeted late Thursday that Mexico is fine with a bilateral deal as well.

“Mexico stated from the beginning of the negotiation that the ideal scenario is for NAFTA to remain trilateral,” he wrote. “We hope the U.S. and Canada will conclude their bilateral negotiation shortly. If that is not possible we are ready to advance bilaterally with the US.”

Trudeau’s comments came at the end of a caucus retreat aimed at plotting strategy for next week’s resumption of Parliament and laying the ground work for the run up to next year’s federal election.

Trudeau kicked off the retreat on Wednesday with a distinct election flavour, touting the government’s record on aid for Canada’s middle class and stating emphatically that his party will always stand up for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

At his closing press conference, Trudeau spoke of his government’s plan to introduce pay equity legislation — first promised in this year’s budget — and ratify a trade agreement with Pacific Rim nations, including Mexico.

He said the Liberals will also stay focused on NAFTA talks, started last year at the behest of U.S. President Donald Trump, to strengthen “the most successful trading relationship perhaps in the world.”

The outcome of negotiations, now in their 13th month, will determine the economic and trade relationship between the three North American countries, with numerous workers’ and industries’ prospects hanging in the balance.

Trump has threatened to forge ahead with a deal with Mexico if Canada can’t come on board by the Sept. 30 deadline to provide Congress with a preliminary text of an agreement.

Already, Congress is in a 90-day window to review the one-on-one deal with Mexico, which both sides want to have signed before Dec. 1 when Mexico gets a new president.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Trump mused about renaming the trade pact “USMC” — with “M” referring to Mexico and “C” for Canada — based on his disdain for the NAFTA moniker.

The report said Trump groused about Canada’s negotiators and expressed his frustration with the neighbour to the North. He reportedly said he was willing to go ahead with a “USM” deal and drop the “C” if Canada didn’t sign on.

Trudeau said he has given little thought to the name of a renewed trade agreement, focused instead of “a broad range of issues” in talks that “will have a direct impact on Canadians’ jobs, on our economic growth and our prospects.

“These are things that we’re working on very seriously, rolling up our sleeves on. I don’t think we’ve spent much time talking about what the name or potential name or renaming could be,” he said.

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