Canada on track for Fri­day sign­ing of USMCA: Free­land

Sentinel-Review (Woodstock) - - NATIONAL NEWS - KRISTY KIRKUP — With files from James McCarten in Wash­ing­ton

BUENOS AIRES, Ar­gentina — Canada is on sched­ule to put pen to pa­per on its new trade pact with the U.S. and Mex­ico on Fri­day, but there is still work to do on the fine print be­fore that can hap­pen, For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land ac­knowl­edged Thurs­day on the eve of a meet­ing of G20 lead­ers.

Free­land, speak­ing on a sunny pa­tio at a ho­tel in Buenos Aires, said there are still de­tails to be fi­nal­ized be­fore the three coun­tries can for­mally sign the “mas­sive” U.S.Mex­ico-Canada Agree­ment.

“Our ob­jec­tive has al­ways been to sign this agree­ment on Nov. 30 and we are on track to hit that ob­jec­tive,” Free­land said shortly af­ter the Cana­dian del­e­ga­tion ar­rived in Ar­gentina for the two­day sum­mit.

Canada has been in touch with the Amer­i­cans and the Mex­i­cans since ar­riv­ing in Buenos Aires, she added.

“A vast num­ber of tech­ni­cal de­tails need to be scrubbed and wrapped up,” Free­land said. “The fact that this is an agree­ment in three lan­guages adds to the level of tech­ni­cal com­plex­ity and it is on that level that we are just be­ing sure that all the Is are dot­ted and all the Ts are crossed.”

Fri­day is an im­por­tant dead­line: Satur­day, a new Mex­i­can pres­i­dent takes over who could scram­ble the agree­ment.

Sign­ing the deal is largely cer­e­mo­nial; it still re­quires rat­i­fi­ca­tion by all three coun­tries be­fore it can for­mally take ef­fect. Law­mak­ers in the U.S. have al­ready sig­nalled they don’t ex­pect to deal with the USMCA un­til af­ter the new Congress is sworn in early next year.

But the path to Fri­day’s sign­ing has been bruis­ing, and those sore spots will be im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore when the three coun­tries gather to talk trade for the first time since 13 months of talks cul­mi­nated in an 11th-hour agree­ment late in Septem­ber. For starters, U.S.-im­posed tar­iffs on steel and alu­minum ex­ports re­main in place against both Canada and Mex­ico, as do a raft of coun­ter­mea­sures. With a new deal on the ta­ble that’s sup­posed to rep­re­sent a new era of tar­iff-free trade, all three coun­tries have been work­ing on re­solv­ing the stand­off be­fore Fri­day.

The deal — 32 chap­ters, 11 an­nexes and 12 side let­ters — sets new rules for the auto sec­tor, in­clud­ing a higher thresh­old for North Amer­i­can con­tent and rules re­quir­ing 40 per cent of car parts be made by work­ers paid at least $16 an hour.

It pre­serves a con­tentious dis­pute-res­o­lu­tion sys­tem the U.S. dearly wanted gone, ex­tends patent pro­tec­tions for bi­o­logic drugs and al­lows U.S. farm­ers a 3.6-per­cent share of Canada’s fa­mously guarded mar­ket for poul­try, eggs and dairy prod­ucts — a con­ces­sion that dis­mayed Cana­dian dairy pro­duc­ers.

In a let­ter re­leased Thurs­day, the Dairy Farm­ers of Canada warned that the text of the deal gives the U.S. too much say over how the Cana­dian sys­tem is man­aged, and urged the gov­ern­ment to stand down un­til that pro­vi­sion is ex­cised. “The cur­rent fi­nal text of the USMCA will cause fur­ther harm to the Cana­dian dairy in­dus­try,” they write. “The ex­ist­ing text ... grants the U.S. over­sight into the ad­min­is­tra­tion of our Cana­dian dairy sys­tem, which un­der­mines Cana­dian sovereignty and abil­ity to man­age Cana­dian dairy with­out U.S. in­ter­ven­tion.”

Then there are the deeper wounds.

The ne­go­ti­a­tions were long and at times ac­ri­mo­nious, with Free­land and her del­e­ga­tion learn­ing first­hand what it’s like to ne­go­ti­ate with Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, in par­tic­u­lar his trade emis­saries — U.S. Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Robert Lighthizer and his deputy, C.J. Ma­honey.

Dur­ing the fi­nal week of talks, Trump punc­tu­ated the ten­sions dur­ing a free­wheel­ing news con­fer­ence on the mar­gins of the United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly: “We don’t like their rep­re­sen­ta­tive very much,” he said, an ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to Free­land.

De­spite the sym­bol­ism of Fri­day ’s sign­ing, Trump has no meet­ings with Trudeau sched­uled while the two are in Ar­gentina.

SEAN KILPATRICK/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land speaks to re­porters in Buenos Aires, Ar­gentina on Thurs­day. Free­land says the new North Amer­i­can trade deal should be signed on Fri­day.

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