National Post (Latest Edition)


- Rob Gillies

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday he offered to go Washington this week to complete talks on renegotiat­ing the North American Free Trade Agreement but that Vice-President Mike Pence called and told him a meeting with the U.S. president would only happen if Trudeau agreed to put a five-year sunset clause into the deal.

Trudeau said he refused to go because of the “totally unacceptab­le” preconditi­on. He made the comment while outlining Canada’s response to U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

In a call to Trump last Friday, Trudeau offered to meet with him because he felt they were close to an agreement that only required a “final deal-making moment.”

Trudeau said Trump seemed agreeable before Pence called him on Tuesday.

“I stated that I thought we were quite close to reaching an agreement, and perhaps the time had come for me to sit down with the president in Washington in order to finalize the NAFTA agreement,” Trudeau said in French. “We already had the bones of a very good agreement for all parties, and I thought it might be opportune for all of us to sit down for a few hours and discuss it.”

Trudeau has long said he wouldn’t agree to a sunset clause because businesses need certainty when they make long-term investment­s and putting a sunset clause in every five years would create uncertaint­y.

“I had to highlight there was no possibilit­y of any Canadian prime minister signing a NAFTA deal that included a five-year sunset clause and obviously the visit didn’t happen,” Trudeau said.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Thursday that the decision to slap Canada and Mexico with stiff steel and aluminum tariffs was based on a lack of progress in the NAFTA talks.

“Those talks are taking longer than we had hoped. There is no longer a very precise date when they may be concluded” so they were added to the tariff list, he said.

Neither the tariffs nor a series of retaliator­y measures imposed by Canada in response will affect the ability to keep renegotiat­ing NAFTA as a separate track, Ross added. “They’re not mutually exclusive behaviours.”

Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and a former Mulroney cabinet minister at the time of the original Canada-U.S. free trade deal, expressed surprise at the sunset-clause tactic.

“That is not the basis on which mature adults negotiate,” Beatty said.

“For someone who prides himself as a negotiator, anybody who does business on the basis of, ’One side can only win if the other side loses’ usually isn’t in business for very long.”

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