An intense round of talks between Canada and the U.S. to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came to an end Friday afternoon without an agreement, but with both sides reporting progress and planning to resume negotiations on Wednesday.
“We are continuing to work hard, and we are making progress. We’re not there yet,” Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters in a news conference on Friday afternoon.
She repeatedly praised her American counterpart, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, for bringing “good faith and goodwill” to the negotiating table.
While there are multiple reports Canada has offered to concede some dairy market access, Freeland refused to share any details on specific NAFTA files, including two of the final sticking points: dairy policy and Chapter 19 dispute resolution.
“I used to be a reporter and understand the extreme frustration everyone here is feeling … I am absolutely convinced that the best way to get a good deal is to not negotiate in public,” she said.
Meanwhile, Lighthizer’s office issued a statement saying, “the talks were constructive, and we made progress,” and that they will be meeting with Freeland and her colleagues again on Wednesday.
Lighthizer also announced President Trump notified Congress on Friday of his intent to move forward with a new trade deal.
“Today the President notified the Congress of his intent to sign a trade agreement with Mexico — and Canada, if it is willing — 90 days from now,” said Lighthizer. “Over the next few weeks, Congress and cleared advisors from civil society and the private sector will be able to examine the agreement. They will find it has huge benefits for our workers, farmers, ranchers, and businesses.”
Asked whether Canada believes there’s a deadline for reaching an agreement with the U.S. (and Mexico), Freeland refused to give any specific timeline, saying, “Once we have a good deal for Canada, we’ll be done.”
The president of the group representing export-oriented sectors of Canadian agriculture called the progress this week “reassuring.”
“On behalf of our members — the hundreds of thousands of farmers, ranchers, food processors and agri-food exporters who rely on trade for their livelihood – news that progress is made in the NAFTA negotiations is reassuring…however, there are questions that remain on the outcomes in a final deal and much work remains to get there,” said Brian Innes, president of the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance (CAFTA), in a statement on Friday afternoon.
CAFTA continues to push for additional removal of tariffs and other barriers that restrict exports to the U.S. and Mexico.
“Canadian agri-food products still face a number of barriers when entering the U.S. market such as unjustified meat inspections, very restrictive quotas on sugar and processed food containing sugar, as well as tariffs on further processed vegetable oil products,” said Innes. “We also need to ensure that a modernized NAFTA maintains robust dispute resolution mechanisms and that processes are in place that can address issues before they stifle cross-border trade.”