Home News Canadian Negotiators Locked in Nafta Talks With US as Deadline Looms

Canadian Negotiators Locked in Nafta Talks With US as Deadline Looms

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Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland postponed a planned speech at the United Nations General Assembly amid intensive weekend trade talks with the U.S.


chris wattie/Reuters

The Canadian government has entered intensive weekend trade talks with the Trump administration in hopes of reaching an agreement on a revised North American Free Trade Agreement before a U.S.-imposed Sunday deadline.

In a sign that Canada is pulling out all the stops, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland—her country’s lead Nafta negotiator—postponed a planned Saturday noon-hour speech at the United Nations General Assembly.

Ms. Freeland is now in Ottawa, to focus on the talks with no plans as of yet to travel to Washington, said a person familiar with the government’s planning. Also in Ottawa is David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador in Washington and another crucial player on the Nafta front. Key stakeholders briefed by the Canadian government over the weekend said they were prepared for the possibility of an announcement as soon as Sunday.

It wasn’t clear as of Saturday afternoon whether the two sides had made significant progress in bridging differences over a wide range of issues. “Talks are intense,” one Canadian official said, adding “we won’t comment on timelines.” U.S. officials declined to comment.

The effort comes as President Trump and his aides have expressed frustration with what they have called Canadian intransigence in the talks a month after Mr. Trump reached a deal with the pact’s third partner, Mexico. Mr. Trump has said he was ready to move forward with efforts to replace the quarter-century-old trilateral pact with a U.S.-Mexico-only deal.

Mr. Trump’s U.S. trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, told members of Congress on Thursday that the U.S.-Canada disagreements appeared too large to strike an agreement with Ottawa by the Sept. 30 deadline set by the U.S.

A second Canadian official cautioned that the negotiations may not result in a deal before the end of Sunday, when the Trump administration is due to make public the text on the previously negotiated deal between the U.S. and Mexico.

The official said negotiations could continue into October, which is a possibility Mr. Lighthizer floated in an appearance this past week in New York. Ms. Freeland and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have repeatedly said they are willing to take as long as necessary to reach a deal that benefits all countries.

Canada’s decision to shift the U.N. speaking spot caps the latest in a string of events in the past 24 hours indicating a last-minute push for all three Nafta parties.

On Friday evening, Mexico was set to release the text of its deal with the U.S. but the unveiling was postponed, with Mexico’s Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo saying there was a “serious effort” to reach a trilateral agreement.

Mexico’s president-elect, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, said this week that he would like Canada to remain in Nafta, and that the current draft agreement with the U.S. had his support, though he added he was unwilling to renegotiate what the U.S. and Mexico had agreed to.

The Sept. 30 deadline was set due to a combination of factors. The Mexicans have said they preferred to have the agreement signed by outgoing President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose term ends Nov. 30. U.S. law requires an American president to make public the text of a trade agreement 60 days before he can sign it.

In a rush to meet that timetable, Messrs. Trump and Peña Nieto announced their bilateral deal on Aug. 27 and encouraged Mr. Trudeau to join them as soon as possible.

But Canadian officials have said repeatedly they wouldn’t be forced into concessions by the U.S. and Mexican political calendars. As of last week, big differences between Washington and Ottawa remained over a variety of issues, including U.S. demands for greater access to Canada’s dairy market, and American attempts to remove from the current Nafta deal a provision favored by Canada making it easier to challenge U.S. trade restrictions.

While Mr. Trump has said repeatedly he would be willing to strike a deal just with Mexico and cut Canada out, he has received considerable resistance from a broad coalition in the U.S.—including business and labor groups, Republican and Democratic lawmakers—who have made clear they would be unlikely to support a new Nafta that doesn’t include all three nations.

Write to Kim Mackrael at kim.mackrael@wsj.com, Paul Vieira at paul.vieira@wsj.com and Jacob M. Schlesinger at jacob.schlesinger@wsj.com

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