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

Borderline fraud happening in Rimbey

Check references for contract work

Fraud and thefts reported to Rimbey RCMP

Stolen truck reported from campground

Rocky RCMP on lookout for wanted man

Public assistance needed

Rimbey teen wins award

Local air cadet receives Duke of Edinburgh award

VIDEO: Canadians rise for early-morning Royal wedding celebrations

Canadians gathered for early-morning broadcast of marriage between Meghan Markle, Prince Harry

Alberta Party names candidate for upcoming byelection

The Alberta Party made the announcement May 24 at hte lighthouse in Sylvan Lake

Military college students accused of violating Qur’an with bacon

Alleged acts by four cadets from the Royal Military College in Quebec caught on video

Wildfire northwest of Kamloops jumps to 1,600 hectares overnight

Ground crews and aircraft are responding to an estimated 1,600 hectare wildfire approximately 55 kilometers northwest of Kamloops, near the Deadman Vidette Road.

One Maskwacis man, one Wetaskiwin arrested after home invasion

Thomas Abraham, Levi Favel arrested, police looking for Trent Angus and Vanessa Johnston

Referendum in Ireland would repeal strict ban on abortion

Voters throughout Ireland have begun casting votes in a referendum that may lead to a loosening of the country’s strict ban on most abortions.

Lava from Hawaii volcano enters ocean from 3 flows

The Kilauea volcano has been gushing lava on the big island of Hawaii for the past three weeks.

Summit talk turns warmer; Trump says ‘talking to them now’

North Korea issued a statement saying it was still “willing to give the U.S. time and opportunities” to reconsider talks

Harvey Weinstein turns himself in, arraigned on rape, criminal charges

Harvey Weinstein arraigned on rape, criminal sex act charges following allegations of sexual misconduct

Most Read