Freeland in a divided Washington for new NAFTA talks with U.S. and Mexico

Freeland in a divided Washington for new NAFTA talks with U.S. and Mexico

OTTAWA — Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland wrapped up a meeting Wednesday in the American capital aimed at finding the bipartisan agreement needed to finalize a new North American trade deal saying they continue to make progress.

The session involved U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Mexican Undersecretary for North America Jesús Seade.

“Today it was a good meeting, good work has been done,” Freeland said after a session that lasted about an hour.

Freeland said she will continue to be in close communication with her counterparts during the next few days, but suggested no talks were planned on Thursday, when Americans celebrate Thanksgiving Day.

She declined to confirm whether she would be hosting Seade in Ottawa, even though the Mexican official said he planned to be there Friday.

Officials from the continent’s three countries held talks earlier Wednesday in Washington on the final obstacle to ratifying the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement ahead of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday weekend — a sign of the dwindling American legislative calendar.

Freeland, who is the lead minister for the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, started her day with a federal cabinet meeting in the Ottawa area.

Canadian government officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said Canada’s acting ambassador Kirsten Hillman and chief trade negotiator Steve Verheul represented Canada in talks earlier in the day.

But Freeland had been in close contact with Lighthizer, speaking on the phone with him Tuesday and Wednesday, said officials.

Mexico is the only country to legally approve the deal, while Canada is waiting on the U.S. Congress to make its first move towards ratification. Officials say Canada’s approach remains the same — it will only move “in tandem” with the U.S.

Freeland said she respects the domestic ratification process in each country.

“Where we can be a supportive partner, we are very happy to do that, and that is why we are here,” she said after the meeting in Washington.

Seade said only that the meeting was “good” because “we make constant progress.”

The American Thanksgiving holiday was seen by many as one of the last reasonable opportunities for U.S. lawmakers to practically dispatch with USMCA amid the broader impeachment drama engulfing President Donald Trump, and the looming political shift ahead of the November 2020 presidential election. Trump has levelled scathing criticism on the Democrats for blocking progress on the trade deal by focusing on impeachment.

Democrats control the House of Representatives and have negotiated with Lighthizer for months to strengthen several of the deal’s provisions, including improved labour standards to ensure that Mexico’s much-promised workplace reforms can be enforced.

During the long and at times acrimonious renegotiation of NAFTA, Canadian and American negotiators pushed Mexico to improve labour standards to prevent companies in the manufacturing and auto sectors from relocating to where employers can pay them far less. Now, the Americans want to make sure those changes have teeth.

That could come in an addendum or side letter to the USMCA. As for the core text of the deal, Canada has maintained it considers that signed and sealed, not to be re-opened for further negotiations.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House leader who controls the introduction of a ratification bill, said earlier this week she and Lighthizer “were within range of a substantially improved agreement for America’s workers.” But she added that she wanted Lighthizer to put that in writing “for final review.”

Pelosi has said she wants a new deal finalized by the end of the year.

Observers in the U.S. and Canada are not that optimistic.

Dan Ujczo, an Ohio-based trade specialist with the law firm Dickinson Wright who has closely followed of the trade talks, said he believes House Democrats and the Trump administration “have a handshake deal that is being firmed up in writing” that should be made public soon.

“We expect the see the full contours of that deal, including any objections by Mexico, next week. This is progress in the process,” he said.

But, he added, it is unlikely that Congress ratifies USMCA before the end of this year.

“There is a chance this can stitch together quickly if everything falls right. But there is no objective evidence that can happen during impeachment and resolving spending issues before the holiday break. It is going to be a long December.”

Brian Kingston, vice-president of the Business Council of Canada, said he is less concerned about making progress by Thanksgiving than in seeing the deal clear Congress before U.S. lawmakers are diverted to the partisan politicking of the 2020 presidential race.

“There’s a window for getting House Democrats and USTR to agree on the changes that have been made. There’s a window for getting Canada and Mexico to have a look at the text and get their sign-off on what’s been negotiated. I’m not sure there’s a window to get a vote in Congress with eight days left on the calendar,” said Kingston.

“That would be a monumental effort.”

— With files from AP

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2019.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

NAFTA

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

Just Posted

Sarah Tittemore, interim chair of the city’s systems leadership team, announces the start-up of a one-year pilot project. A Social Diversion team will be dispatched to deal with non-emergency disturbances in the city through making a 211 call. (Screenshot by Advocate staff).
New Social Diversion team starts up in Red Deer to deal with non-emergency disturbances

A nurse and social services expert will be deployed to assist after calling 211

Sgt. Andrew Harnett, 37, of the Calgary Police Service is shown inthis undated handout image provided by the police service. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Calgary Police Service
Bail hearing continues today for teen accused in Calgary officer’s hit-and-run death

CALGARY — A bail hearing for a teen accused in the hit-and-run… Continue reading

President Donald Trump speaks near a section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, in Alamo, Texas. (Delcia Lopez/The Monitor via AP)
Trump bids farewell to Washington, hints of comeback

‘We will be back in some form’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, January 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada in touch with Biden admin about disputed oil pipeline

Premier Jason Kenney says ‘rescinding the Keystone XL border crossing permit would damage the Canada-US bilateral relationship’

.
B.C. to still administer second doses despite loss of Pfizer shipment next week: Dix

VANCOUVER — British Columbia’s health minister says the province is still on… Continue reading

A view of the stage on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, ahead of the 59th Presidential Inauguration on Wednesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Susan Walsh, Pool
Canadians tune in to Joe Biden inauguration amid pandemic threat, violence concerns

TORONTO — Canadians tuned in Wednesday with a mixture of relief and… Continue reading

The constituency office of Derek Sloan, Conservative MP for Hastings-Lennox and Addington is show in Belleville, Ont., on Tuesday Jan. 19, 2021. Sloan says he’ll fight efforts by his party’s leader to boot him from caucus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg
Expelling Derek Sloan from Conservative caucus not entirely up to Erin O’Toole

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole wants Derek Sloan booted out of… Continue reading

Early morning fire destroys grocery and retail store in Igloolik, Nunavut

A fire has destroyed a grocery and retail store in Igloolik, Nunavut.… Continue reading

Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux waits to appear before the Commons finance committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday March 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
PBO says reformed fiscal stabilization program to cost Ottawa $4.5 billion

OTTAWA — Reforms to a federal support program for provinces will nearly… Continue reading

Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem takes part in a news conference at the Bank of Canada in Ottawa on December 15, 2020. Canada’s central bank will update its economic forecast for the country that will offer a window when it expects a recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic to take hold. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Bank of Canada keeps key rate at 0.25 per cent, warns of economic decline in 2021

OTTAWA — The Bank of Canada says the national economy will go… Continue reading

President-elect Joe Biden speaks during a COVID-19 memorial, with lights placed around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Sighs of relief accompany a sense of unease as Biden takes oath, Trump departs D.C.

WASHINGTON — Relief, apprehension and a touch of pandemic-tinged festivity washed over… Continue reading

FIL - In this Nov. 7, 2020, file photo Vice President-elect Kamala Harris speaks in Wilmington, Del. Harris will make history Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, when she becomes the nation’s first Black, South Asian and female vice president. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
Vice-President Harris: A new chapter opens in US politics

Harris moves into the vice presidency just four years after arriving in Washington as a California senator

Most Read