Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walks with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017. Trudeau has told Trump that his threatened tariffs on steel and aluminum imports will not make a new NAFTA deal happen sooner. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

NAFTA: As deadline nears, Trudeau, Trump discuss prospects of quick deal

President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discussed the possibility Monday of immediately wrapping up a NAFTA deal

President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discussed the possibility Monday of immediately wrapping up a NAFTA deal despite signs of skepticism about whether that goal is feasible.

U.S. officials are sounding less than bullish about the prospects of a NAFTA deal by week’s end, which is considered the unofficial deadline for finalizing an agreement this year.

That’s because some view the de facto deadline as Thursday, high-level negotiators don’t even have a meeting time set yet for this week and one leading U.S. politician says none of the hot-button issues have been resolved.

The countries have been meeting frequently in an effort to get an agreement before national elections in Mexico and the U.S. delay the process until 2019.

The national leaders spoke by phone about getting a quick agreement. In a release Monday, Trudeau’s office said they talked about “bringing the negotiations to a prompt conclusion,” and the White House issued a statement saying, “President Trump underscored the importance of quickly concluding an agreement.”

Yet in an appearance at the National Press Club in Washington on Monday, Trump’s own commerce secretary responded in the negative when asked whether any major issues had been resolved lately.

“I don’t believe that any of the big hot topics (were),” Wilbur Ross said.

“The rules of origin, the (five-year) sunset provision, the dispute resolution provision, labour — big topics like that — are still a work in progress. Those are very complex issues — particularly rules of origin. So it eventually will come down to every comma, every semi-colon.”

Related: Canada loses NAFTA court challenge, reviving environmental concerns

Related: Political heavyweights hit Washington in hunt for NAFTA deal

There are several signs of a disconnect between the ambitions of those who want significant changes in the agreement and the vanishingly small window of time left to reach an agreement in the short term.

Take pharmaceuticals as one example. Last week, the U.S. signalled its desire to use trade deals to change the way drug prices are set abroad, in an effort to have other countries shoulder more of the costs of pharma research.

The U.S. has specifically complained about Canadian pricing policies.

Such a negotiation would surely be controversial, yet one person familiar with the talks said it has not substantially arisen, as autos remain the focus of the negotiation.

Dairy is another example.

It’s yet another politically sensitive issue that matters not only to Canadians, but also to major American politicians. Congressional leader Paul Ryan, who is from the dairy-producing state of Wisconsin, described it as another major unaddressed issue.

Ryan has dropped subtle hints of his own doubts about an immediate deal.

In a speech last week, the House speaker noted that he helped write the rules of the so-called fast-track legislation for passing a trade deal through the U.S. Congress.

He estimated that lawmakers would have to see the paper text of an agreement by this Thursday to meet all the procedural deadlines for a vote in 2018.

Ryan then stared at his watch, noted the date, and drew laughs from the audience.

“I’ll let you … draw the conclusion,” Ryan said. “There are a handful of unresolved issues. I’m just not,” he said, before cutting himself off, saying he didn’t want to make news.

In a meeting last week with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, Ryan described the deadlines embedded in the legislation he helped create.

In his speech Monday, the commerce secretary alluded to the fact Freeland met with lawmakers when she was in Washington last week, something officials from Canada and other countries do regularly.

Ross noted that other countries try working around U.S. negotiators, and deal directly with legislators.

“The Canadian lead negotiator was here in the States. She spent two-and-a-half hours in negotiations with us, and about 40 hours lobbying Capitol Hill,” Ross said.

“That’s not an unusual ratio for foreign countries. They try to get around us through the political process.”

Ross’s math was a little off. While it’s true Freeland did meet with lawmakers, she spent several hours on Capitol Hill, far fewer than the number of Ross suggested.

Another ongoing element of uncertainty involves steel and aluminum tariffs.

The tariffs are scheduled to hit Canada and Mexico on June 1, depending on the NAFTA outcome. Ross wouldn’t say what would happen, when asked about the tariffs: “You’ll be the first to know on June 1… Or maybe a little before.”

Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Family, friends of Mission murder victim hold protest rally

Group wants convicted murderer Walter Ramsay sent back to a maximum security facility

Mission downs Abbotsford to open season

Roadrunners defeat Panthers 29-8 in 2018 home debut

Mission to celebrate culture during three-day event

Culture Days 2018 takes place Sept. 28-30

Vancouver Giants earn a weekend sweep against Everett

Langley-based hockey team plays its next game is at home on Friday, Sept. 28, against Seattle.

Abbotsford company among 500 fastest growing in Canada

Valley Carriers keeps spot on Growth 500 list, but drops from 398 last year to 408 this year

Ottawa area residents take stock of tornado rubble as Ford tours the ruins

A tornado on Friday afternoon tore roofs off of homes, overturned cars and felled power lines in the Ottawa community of Dunrobin and in Gatineau, Que.

Cap rent increases at inflation rate, B.C. task force recommends

MLAs say drop annual increase that would allow 4.5% rise next year

School, church and old mining site make Heritage BC’s 1st ever ‘watch list”

The list includes sites in need of protection to maintain B.C.’s culture and history

5 to start your day

Maple Ridge students send books to fire-destroyed school, teen stabbed in Surrey park and more

Yowza! Twerk, emoji and facepalm are added to Scrabble dictionary, OK?

Merriam-Webster has announced 300 new words have been added to the spelling game

LGBTQ activists, allies in Victoria counter anti-SOGI protest with rally of their own

Lower Mainland activists plan to protest SOGI on legislature lawn, Sept. 29

Three people attacked on Queensborough Bridge

Man in custody following incident occurred Sunday

Cities make power play for new fiscal order with eye to 2019 federal election

Trudeau ordered Champagne to talk with provinces and territories about ways to “address the timeliness of the flow of funds” to projects.

Trudeau arrives at United Nations, hoping to re-establish Canada on world stage

Trudeau is beginning his day at the opening of the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit, where he’s scheduled to deliver brief remarks later this afternoon.

Most Read