Free­land lay on floor of PM’s of­fice after USMCA was inked

Calgary Herald - - FINANCIAL POST - LINDA NGUYEN

TORONTO After more than a year of lead­ing in­tense trade ne­go­ti­a­tions with the United States and Mex­ico, the first thing For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land did when the new agree­ment was reached was lay on the floor of the prime min­is­ter’s of­fice.

“I did. That is true,” she said Tues­day dur­ing a talk at the For­tune Global Fo­rum in Toronto.

Free­land agreed that her re­ac­tion was due to ex­haus­tion and just the thrill of the tu­mul­tuous 14-month process fi­nally be­ing over.

The new tri­lat­eral pact be­tween the U.S., Mex­ico and Canada, com­monly re­ferred to as USMCA, was reached at the 11th hour on Sept. 30 and sets to mod­ern­ize the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment.

The ne­go­ti­a­tions were tense, with U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump threat­en­ing on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions that his coun­try would with­draw from NAFTA al­to­gether.

Free­land told a room of Cana­dian and for­eign busi­ness lead­ers that the talks be­tween the three coun­tries had many “mo­ments of drama,” which she had an­tic­i­pated from the start.

“Trade ne­go­ti­a­tions are this odd thing. On the one hand, they can be in­cred­i­bly tech­ni­cal about re­ally, re­ally spe­cific tech­ni­cal is­sues,” she said. “And on the other hand, they’re punc­tu­ated by th­ese very dra­matic mo­ments ... drama is par for the course.”

When asked about Trump’s per­sonal at­tack on her dur­ing the process, and deal­ing with his ne­go­ti­a­tion strat­egy, she and her team re­sponded in the Cana­dian way.

“For us, our ap­proach was to al­ways be po­lite. We tried to al­ways be friendly. That is al­ways our na­tional way. We be­lieve strongly in us­ing fact-based ar­gu­ments and we did that, but to know what your bot­tom lines are and to stand firm in de­fence of the na­tional in­ter­est,” said Free­land.

“We were ab­so­lutely clear about that and ul­ti­mately that was un­der­stood.”

De­spite ef­forts from U.S. ne­go­tia­tors, Canada fought hard to keep Chap­ter 19 — a key pro­vi­sion that gives in­de­pen­dent pan­els the abil­ity to re­solve dis­putes in­volv­ing com­pa­nies and gov­ern­ments, as well as Chap­ter 20, the govern­ment-to-govern­ment dis­pute set­tle­ment mech­a­nism.

She said Canada did not wa­ver dur­ing the talks, and that she felt sup­ported by Cana­di­ans for stay­ing stead­fast.

Free­land re­called be­ing stopped and hugged by a stranger at the gro­cery store and how at an­other time a fel­low pas­sen­ger tried give her a busi­ness seat dur­ing a flight back from Wash­ing­ton.

“Peo­ple were just so nice,” she said. “But what I would call Cana­dian nice: res­o­lute and nice. And that was re­ally im­por­tant.”

Although it’s been reached, the USMCA deal still faces a num­ber of hur­dles be­fore it’s of­fi­cially fi­nal­ized.

On Tues­day, Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell told Bloomberg News that U.S. Con­gress won’t ap­prove the rene­go­ti­ated deal this year.

Chrys­tia Free­land

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