Tories, NDP seeking NAFTA priorities
Opposition wants three ministers to speak before trade committee
OTTAWA — Conservatives and New Democrats are joining forces in a bid to pressure the Trudeau government to reveal its priorities for the imminent renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Four MPs from both parties sent a joint letter Tuesday to the clerk of the Commons international trade committee, requesting that an emergency meeting be held to grill three cabinet ministers on Canada’s negotiating objectives and “expected positive outcomes” of the renegotiation, which is to begin in mid-August.
The committee, on which Liberals hold the majority, is now scheduled to meet Friday to decide whether to accede to the request. If members agree, the ministers could be called to testify immediately.
Insiders said that Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, the lead minister on NAFTA negotiations, is willing to appear before negotiations start next month but is unlikely to be available as early as Friday. The request comes one day after the United States disclosed its negotiating objectives, as is required under American law. There is no equivalent requirement in Canada and the Trudeau government has so far refused to go into any detail about its priorities, maintaining that it’s not helpful to negotiate in public.
But the opposition parties want to force the government’s hand by inviting three key ministers to testify at an emergency committee meeting — Freeland, International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and Finance Minister Bill Morneau.
Conservative MP Randy Hoback, one of the four committee members requesting the emergency meeting, said the meeting is necessary to make sure the government has a game plan for negotiations, that they’ve identified the issues Canadians want to see on the bargaining table and those they don’t want on the table.
“We’re not asking them to negotiate in public,” he said in an interview.
Hoback said the government could at least identify “what are the do-not-touch items.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took a step in that direction Tuesday, indicating that he won’t bargain away Canada’s supply management system for dairy and poultry products, which U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly targeted as unfair subsidization.
“We have always defended supply management. It’s a system that works,” Trudeau said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland indicates says she will speak to trade committee.