Sat | Sep 22, 2018

Canadian foreign minister wants quick conclusion to NAFTA talks

Published:Sunday | September 9, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said she's ready to move forward quickly once the US and Mexico reach an agreement on automobiles, and downplayed any notion that her country has been shut out of North American Free Trade Agreement t(NAFTA) talks.

"I and Canada are very, very keen to get it done as quickly as possible," Freeland said during a conference call from Hong Kong, where she stopped after leaving Association of Southeast Asian Nations meetings in Singapore. "We're very, very supportive of moving forward fast, and we are in close touch with both our Mexican and US counterparts."

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said last month that an agreement in principle could be achieved this month, and he blamed Canada for not compromising as the US and Mexico had. Since then, negotiations have carried on mostly without Canada as Mexico and the US focus on resolving bilateral issues, particularly regarding cars.

Freeland said Canada and the US had already moved past some of the key automotive issues involving domestic content requirements and rules of origin before talks stalled in May.

"That is the engine of this deal," she said, referring to the auto issue. "It is fiendishly complicated, and that needs to get sorted out."

Freeland sidestepped questions about whether she or Canada's lead NAFTA negotiator, Steve Verheul, would be in Washington this week, saying instead that her country is ready to negotiate "anytime, anywhere," and that she looks forward to discussing the remaining issues with her US and Mexican counterparts.

She reiterated that NAFTA is "absolutely," a trilateral deal, and that modernising the 24-year-old agreement is a priority for Canada.