MONTREAL: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Sunday it was “very likely” that informal talks aimed at renewing the North American Free Trade Agreement would continue on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York over the next several days.
Officials have been in talks nearly non-stop for a month as they try to overcome hurdles and agree on a Nafta rewrite, under pressure from US President Donald Trump to sign onto a deal reached in August with Mexico.
The latest round between Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer ended Thursday without a deal.
“I don’t think there are any formal encounters planned,” Trudeau said as he addressed a press conference after a meeting with his Spanish counterpart Pedro Sanchez.
“But certainly the fact that many of our negotiators will be in New York at the same time, it’s very likely that conversations continue in a constructive but less formal way.”
Freeland, who leads the team of Canadian negotiators, is due to deliver Canada’s speech to the UN General Assembly on Friday.
US President Donald Trump, who called Nafta “one of the worst trade deals in history,” demanded that the 1994 accord be revised. The talks started a year ago.
The United States and Mexico sealed their own deal at the end of August, after reaching agreement on auto content requirements and intend to sign the accord by Dec 1, when Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador takes office.
Ottawa and Washington remain at odds over Canada’s managed dairy sector, and the dispute resolution provisions in Nafta.
Trudeau also denied on Sunday that forthcoming provincial elections were behind a delay in Canada signing on to a deal.
The provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec are set to hold legislative elections on September 24 and October 1, respectively.
“I can say unequivocally that considerations around electoral timelines in Quebec or New Brunswick or elsewhere has never been part of the equation for us,” Trudeau said.
Quebec’s dairy sector in particular is one of the most powerful in the country, and is pressuring the Canadian government not to compromise on demands for increased access.