OTTAWA — Federal insiders say Canada’s continental partners are simply trying to work through difficult bilateral sticking points on NAFTA, even as the Canadian government appears to have been left out of ongoing talks between the U.S. and Mexico.
Media reports say U.S. trade czar Robert Lighthizer and Mexican economy secretary Ildefonso Guajardo will meet this week in Washington to continue one-on-one trade talks that started last week.
NAFTA negotiations between the two countries have intensified since the recent election win by Mexico’s president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and the Trump administration has been signalling a deal could be reached on the pact by the end of August.
Two senior Canadian government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the matter in public, insist they’re encouraged the U.S. and Mexico have returned to the table to negotiate difficult bilateral issues such as labour changes in the auto sector — even if Canada wasn’t invited to take part.
One of the officials is rejecting the idea Canada has been frozen out of the talks because it’s not unusual for two of the NAFTA partners to hold discussions on bilateral issues without the third partner in the room.
The source expects top Canadian officials to rejoin the NAFTA negotiations by mid-August.
On Monday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said he thought there was a good chance American negotiators were on “pretty rapid track” when it comes to NAFTA talks with Mexico, noting that Washington has fewer issues with Canada in the talks.
Last week, Lighthizer told a U.S. Senate panel that it wasn’t “unreasonable” for an updated NAFTA deal to be concluded by the end of August.
The Canadian Press