Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Sunday said it was “very likely” that informal talks aimed at renewing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would continue on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York City 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 on to a deal reached last month with Mexico.
The latest round between Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer ended on Thursday without a deal.
“I don’t think there are any formal encounters planned,” Trudeau told a news conference after a meeting with Spanish Prime Minister 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 to deliver Canada’s speech to the assembly on Friday.
Trump, who has called NAFTA “one of the worst trade deals in history,” demanded that the 1994 accord be revised. The talks started a year ago.
The US and Mexico sealed their own deal at the end of last month, after reaching agreement on auto content requirements, and intend to sign the accord by Dec. 1, when Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is to take office.
Ottawa and Washington remain at odds over Canada’s managed dairy sector and the dispute resolution provisions in NAFTA.
Trudeau denied that forthcoming provincial elections were behind a delay in Canada signing on to a deal.
The provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec are to hold legislative elections on Sept. 24 and Oct. 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 is one of the most powerful in the country and is pressuring the Canadian government not to compromise on demands for increased access.
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