Canada now ready to make big NAFTA de­ci­sions, says Free­land

Pre­miers and PM have con­sen­sus, but not tip­ping their hand

The Niagara Falls Review - - Canada & World - JAMES MC­CARTEN

WASHINGTON — For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land says the time has come for high-level de­ci­sions on the fu­ture of NAFTA.

She said Thurs­day that around-the-clock work by of­fi­cials has armed ne­go­ti­at­ing teams with the doc­u­ments they need to start mak­ing some con­crete calls as the U.S. and Canada ac­cel­er­ate their ef­fort to wrap up the rene­go­ti­a­tion of the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment.

Free­land has been in meet­ings in Washington this week with her Amer­i­can coun­ter­part, U.S. Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Robert Lighthizer. Of­fi­cials worked late into the night and again all day to find ar­eas of com­mon ground and com­pro­mise.

“This was an­other good, con­struc­tive, pro­duc­tive con­ver­sa­tion with Am­bas­sador Lighthizer and his team,” Free­land told re­porters dur­ing a pause in Thurs­day’s talks.

“We’ve moved into a very in­tense rhythm of the ne­go­ti­a­tions, where our of­fi­cials are work­ing hard pre­par­ing is­sues for some high-level min­is­te­rial de­ci­sions.”

With talks com­ing to a head, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau held a con­fer­ence call Thurs­day with pre­miers to dis­cuss trade­offs. Free­land planned to be on the call, as did Canada’s am­bas­sador to the U.S., David MacNaughton, and Do­minic LeBlanc, the fed­eral min­is­ter re­spon­si­ble for in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal af­fairs.

Af­ter the call, provin­cial lead­ers were tight-lipped on the de­tails of the dis­cus­sion.

“We are at a very del­i­cate mo­ment, ob­vi­ously, at the ne­go­ti­a­tions, and the first thing we agreed upon is that we wouldn’t is­sue any com­ment on what we dis­cussed and what we heard,” Que­bec Premier Philippe Couil­lard told re­porters.

In a state­ment, On­tario Premier Doug Ford said the call was “pro­duc­tive” and that he hoped a deal would be reached soon.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said felt the con­cerns of all his coun­ter­parts were be­ing heard by the prime min­is­ter.

This week’s new round of U.S.Canada ne­go­ti­a­tions has gen­er­ated hope­ful sig­nals from both camps that a deal could be struck by the end of the week.

But dif­fi­cult dis­cus­sions about dairy and dis­pute set­tle­ment re­main.

David Weins, vice-pres­i­dent of the Dairy Farm­ers of Canada, says his in­dus­try won’t ac­cept any more con­ces­sions that al­low the U.S. ac­cess to the Cana­dian mar­ket.

Canada has opened its dairy mar­ket in its two pre­vi­ous ma­jor trade agree­ments, with the Euro­pean Union and in a re­booted Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship.

The lat­ter deal of­fered 10 other Pa­cific Rim coun­tries ac­cess to 3.25 per cent of Canada’s dairy mar­ket — and most an­a­lysts pre­dict the U.S. will set­tle for noth­ing less in NAFTA.

“We’ve paid the price on two agree­ments and we don’t think it is right they should be com­ing back to us for fur­ther ac­cess,” Weins said in an in­ter­view.

Plus, the dairy in­dus­try doesn’t want Canada to com­pro­mise on po­ten­tially get­ting rid of its twoyear-old Class 7 pric­ing agree­ment that has re­stricted U.S. ex­ports of ul­tra­fil­tered milk used to make dairy prod­ucts, he said.

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has fo­cused many of his an­tidairy tirades on that Cana­dian pol­icy, which al­lows pro­ces­sors to buy do­mes­tic milk at cheaper world mar­ket prices than the higher prices un­der sup­ply man­age­ment.

“Class 7 is im­por­tant to our dairy in­dus­try,” said Weins.

“We are cer­tainly not pre­pared to re­ceive those kinds of blows.”

An­other ob­sta­cle stand­ing in the way of NAFTA’s rene­go­ti­a­tion is the deal’s dis­pute set­tle­ment mech­a­nism known as Chap­ter 19, which has been used over the years in fights against soft­wood lum­ber du­ties.

Chap­ter 19 en­ables in­dus­tries to fight puni­tive anti-dump­ing and coun­ter­vail­ing du­ties.

For Canada, it is a make-or­break el­e­ment of the deal.

The Trudeau gov­ern­ment has re­peat­edly stated it won’t budge on its po­si­tion that Chap­ter 19 re­main in a rene­go­ti­ated NAFTA. The U.S., on the other hand, wants to elim­i­nate Chap­ter 19.

Has­san Yus­suff, pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Labour Congress, said it’s cru­cial for Canada to en­sure Chap­ter 19 stays.

JACQUELYN MARTIN THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Will Canada stand firm on dairy and sup­ply is­sues? The coun­try should learn Fri­day. Above, Chrys­tia Free­land.

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