Canada to align ‘very much’ with American timeline for new NAFTA: PM

OTTAWA — Canada will be aligning itself “very much” with the pace of the United States Congress when it comes to ratifying North America’s new free-trade pact, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says.

Trudeau made the comment Tuesday morning before the weekly Liberal cabinet meeting, and the day after Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland tabled a motion in the House of Commons to lay the groundwork for ratification in Canada.

The clock, however, is ticking: there are fewer than 20 possible sitting days left in the parliamentary calendar before the House rises for the summer, which will be followed by a federal election campaign before voters go to the polls in October.

And in the politically gridlocked U.S., ratification of the U.S.-Canada-Mexico Agreement — USMCA, although Canadian officials have christened it CUSMA to put Canada first — remains far from a foregone conclusion. That has some observers warning against ratifying the deal before the U.S. does, to keep the pressure on Congress.

“We’re looking forward to having great conversations as we move forward with the ratification process,” Trudeau said.

“We’re going to be aligning ourselves very much with the pace of the American administration … the deal, as it is, is a good deal for Canadians, it’s a great deal for people across the country, and we’re going to keep moving forward.”

On May 17, the U.S. agreed to what Freeland calls a “full lift” of punitive tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, paving the way for Canada to begin the process of ratifying the agreement. It was reached late last September after months of difficult and often tense negotiations among all three countries.

Freeland was expected to update her cabinet colleagues Tuesday on the government’s plan for introducing a ratification bill, which requires the approval of the Commons for the deal to move forward.

On Thursday, U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence is to be in Ottawa, where he is expected to exchange views with Trudeau and Freeland on the legislative way forward in their two countries.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau echoed Trudeau on the time frame, saying: “We want to move forward so that we’re prepared to ratify on a timeline that’s consistent with the American timeline.”

In a letter to be released publicly Wednesday, a number of prominent business organizations have written to Trudeau to support the agreement and to begin preparing for the new trading landscape it promises to foster.

“Even before the agreement is fully ratified, there are opportunities for Canada, the United States and Mexico to collaborate in pursuit of a more productive and mutually beneficial trilateral relationship,” says the letter, which counts the Business Council of Canada, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business among its signatories.

“For example, we would encourage all three governments to work together to enhance North American competitiveness and good regulatory practices as outlined in the agreement by establishing committees in each area to promote economic growth and strengthen regulatory co-operation.”

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