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Stickhandling past deadline

Talks continue this week among Canada, Mexico and the U.S. on renegotiating NATFA.
(File Graphic)
Talks continue this week among Canada, Mexico and the U.S. on renegotiating NATFA. (File Graphic) - SaltWire Network

Another day, another NAFTA deadline.

The U.S. Congress wants Canada to join NAFTA by Sunday, so the Mexican government can sign it before it leaves office on Dec. 1. The U.S. and Mexico have agreed on a deal and Congress has begun to consider it.

But comments from U.S. trade ambassador Robert Lighthizer earlier this week make it clear that the U.S. and Canada are still too far apart for that to happen.

And Donald Trump made it clear in a long, extraordinary press conference on Wednesday that he wasn’t happy with progress on the talks, and oh, he doesn’t much like Justin Trudeau or Canada’s trade negotiator.

“We’ve very unhappy with the negotiations and the negotiating style of Canada. We don’t like their representative very much,” Trump told reporters.

So, the heat is on.

After Trump’s comments, many officials lined up to defend Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, who has been leading the negotiations.

The idea that Trump isn’t fond of Freeland won’t hurt the Liberal cause on this side of the border. The governing party is benefiting from a general sense in Canada that Trump’s bluster shouldn’t budge our guys from keeping their eyes on the prize.

That prize is, of course, a deal with our largest trade partner that removes the punishing tariffs the Americans have imposed on our steel and aluminum, and forestalls the tariffs Trump is threatening to impose on Canadian auto exports to the U.S.

The U.S. wants Canada to dismantle the supply management system that regulates our dairy industry, which it considers an unfair subsidy. Canada objects to a U.S. proposal to scrap NAFTA’s dispute-resolution process.

A large chunk of Canada’s dairy industry is based in Quebec, where supply management remains popular and which is holding an election on Monday. So our team may have been ragging the NAFTA puck until any possible concession on that issue can no longer affect the outcome of that vote.

There have been signs that Canada is open to concessions on dairy. For instance, the CETA agreement with the European Union allows some access to each side’s markets. A thin edge of the cheese wedge, so to speak. It would be hard to deny the Americans at least that much access to Canada’s markets, though it’s not clear that would be enough to satisfy them.

Trudeau’s response to Trump’s complaints was to stick to his guns.

“The Americans are finding that the negotiations are tough because Canadians are tough negotiators, as we should be,” he said.

That will play well at home. But you can’t rag the puck forever. Eventually, you have to move it past U.S. trade forecheckers into the opponent’s zone if you want to score.

An editorial from the Chronicle Herald.

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