PM says gov­ern­ment brac­ing for the worst in NAFTA talks

Prime min­is­ter still bullish on prospects for trade deal, but says Canada is ‘ready for any­thing’

The Daily Courier - - FRONT PAGE - By The Cana­dian Press

WASHINGTON — For the first time, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau is ac­knowl­edg­ing that the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment could be in trou­ble.

Trudeau wrapped up his visit to Washington on Wed­nes­day by say­ing that he con­tin­ues to be­lieve that rene­go­ti­at­ing and re­new­ing NAFTA is the best op­tion for all three coun­tries. How­ever, he suggested — re­peat­edly — that the fed­eral Lib­eral gov­ern­ment is brac­ing for the worst.

“It is very im­por­tant and very pos­si­ble to get a win-win-win . . . out of these ne­go­ti­a­tions,” Trudeau told a news con­fer­ence on the roof of the Cana­dian Em­bassy.

“So say­ing, I think it’s been clear that cir­cum­stances are of­ten chal­leng­ing, and we have to be ready for any­thing — and we are.

“We’re tak­ing this very se­ri­ously and we’re tak­ing the im­por­tance of stand­ing up for Cana­dian jobs and Cana­dian eco­nomic growth very se­ri­ously, and that goes (for) ev­ery eco­nomic en­gage­ment we have with the Amer­i­cans.”

Dur­ing his ear­lier visit to the White House, Trudeau lis­tened in­tently as U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump hinted at the pos­si­bil­ity of a free trade deal di­rectly with Canada, should the on­go­ing talks col­lapse.

But the U.S. pres­i­dent also said it’s too early to give up on the ne­go­ti­a­tions, which re­sumed Wed­nes­day in Alexan­dria, Va., with ne­go­tia­tors from Canada, the U.S. and Mex­ico.

“It’s pos­si­ble we won’t be able to reach a deal with one or the other,” Trump said, a poker-faced Trudeau seated at his side. “In the mean­time, we’ll make a deal with one, but I think we have a chance to do some­thing very cre­ative that’s good for Canada, Mex­ico and the United States.”

It’s no se­cret that the pres­i­dent is not a fan of NAFTA, but Wed­nes­day’s re­marks suggested he’s open to the pos­si­bil­ity of a bi­lat­eral trade deal with Canada. “We’ll see what hap­pens. We have a tough ne­go­ti­a­tion.”

It wasn’t clear whether the change in the prime min­is­ter’s NAFTA mes­sage was a di­rect re­sult of his meet­ing with the U.S. pres­i­dent, some­one he ac­knowl­edged “makes de­ci­sions that sur­prise peo­ple some­times.” But re­peat­ing the “ready for any­thing” sen­ti­ment mul­ti­ple times sug­gests a con­scious de­ci­sion to ac­knowl­edge that the out­come of the talks may not go Canada’s way.

“I con­tinue to be­lieve in NAFTA; I con­tinue to be­lieve that as a con­ti­nent work­ing to­gether in com­ple­men­tary ways is bet­ter for our cit­i­zens and bet­ter for eco­nomic growth, and al­lows us to com­pete on a stronger foot­ing with the global econ­omy,” Trudeau said.

“So say­ing, we are ready for any­thing and we will con­tinue to work dili­gently to pro­tect Cana­dian in­ter­ests, to stand up for jobs, and look for op­por­tu­ni­ties for Cana­dian busi­ness and cit­i­zens of all of our friends and neigh­bour coun­tries to do well.”

In­deed, there have been early but un­mis­tak­able signs of trou­ble in the talks, with big busi­ness groups ex­press­ing fear the quar­ter­century-old deal could dis­ap­pear.

Ear­lier Wed­nes­day, Trudeau held dis­cus­sions with the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives’ in­flu­en­tial Ways and Means com­mit­tee, one of two bod­ies of U.S. law­mak­ers that are help­ing ne­go­tia­tors put for­ward the U.S. po­si­tions on trade.

He joined the com­mit­tee to ex­pres­sions of op­ti­mism about the deal from both the com­mit­tee’s Repub­li­can chair and the rank­ing Demo­crat mem­ber.

The Cana­dian Press

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau is greeted by U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump as he ar­rives at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Wed­nes­day.

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