Canada ‘for now’ focused on trilateral NAFTA talks

Canada, Mexico, and the United States often discuss issues related to NAFTA. (AFP pic)

OTTAWA: Canada remains focused “for now” on securing a revamped North American Free Trade Agreement, a senior Canadian official said on Tuesday after Washington floated a proposal for separate bilateral trade pacts with its neighbors.

The official downplayed, but did not deny, a comment earlier from a government source who said Ottawa was “not ruling out” a separate trade deal with the United States to replace NAFTA.

“It is out of the question for now” to conclude a bilateral agreement between Canada and the United States, the official said.

“We have not reached a point where a request has been made for a bilateral agreement… and we remain strongly focused on a trilateral renegotiation of NAFTA,” the official said.

Canada, Mexico, and the United States have been holding talks to revise the two-decade-old NAFTA since last August.

But talks have bogged down amid efforts to satisfy US President Donald Trump’s demands for better terms, including a larger share of US-made components in North American autos.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said earlier Tuesday that he presented the idea of a bilateral trade deal to a senior Canadian official on Monday and was awaiting a response to press ahead.

“I’m waiting to hear what their reaction is going to be frankly. I spoke yesterday to one of their top people, right next to the prime minister. He will probably get back to me sometime today,” Kudlow said.

He noted that the talks to revamp NAFTA have “dragged on” so separate deals “might be able to happen more rapidly,” and expressed hope the response from Ottawa will come “as soon as possible and move the whole process forward.”

The Canadian official confirmed that no new rounds of NAFTA talks are scheduled, but senior officials from all three nations remain in frequent contact by email and telephone.

Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are scheduled to meet at the G7 summit in Canada on Friday and Saturday.