TORONTO — After more than a year of leading intense trade negotiations with the United States and Mexico, the first thing Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland did when the new agreement was reached was lie down on the floor of the Prime Minister’s office.
“I did. That is true,” she said Tuesday during a talk at the Fortune Global Forum in Toronto.
Freeland agreed that her reaction was due to exhaustion and just the thrill of the tumultuous 14 month-long process finally being over.
The new trilateral pact between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, commonly referred to as USMCA, was reached at the 11th-hour on Sept. 30 and sets to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The negotiations were tense, with U.S. President Donald Trump threatening on a number of occasions that his country would withdraw from NAFTA altogether.
Freeland told a room of Canadian and foreign business leaders that the talks between the three countries had many “moments of drama,” which she had anticipated from the start.
“Trade negotiations are this odd thing. On the one hand, they can be incredibly technical about really, really specific technical issues,” she said. “And on the other hand, they’re punctuated by these very dramatic moments… drama is par for the course.”
When asked about Trump’s personal attack on her during the process, and dealing with his negotiation strategy, she and her team responded in the Canadian way.
“For us, our approach was to always be polite. We tried to always be friendly. That is always our national way. We believe strongly in using fact-based arguments and we did that, but to know what your bottom lines are and to stand firm in defence of the national interest,” said Freeland.
“We were absolutely clear about that and ultimately that was understood.”
Despite efforts from U.S. negotiators, Canada fought hard to keep Chapter 19 — a key provision that permits independent panels the ability to resolve disputes involving companies and governments, as well as Chapter 20, the government-to-government dispute settlement mechanism.
She said that Canada did not waver during the talks, and that she felt supported by Canadians for staying steadfast.
Freeland recalled being stopped and hugged by a stranger at the grocery store and the time a fellow passenger tried give her a business seat during a flight back from Washington.
“People were just so nice,” she said. “But what I would call Canadian nice: resolute and nice. And that was really important.”
Although it’s been reached, the USMCA deal still faces a number of hurdles before it’s officially finalized.
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Bloomberg News that U.S. Congress won’t approve the renegotiated deal this year.
“There’s no question this will be on the top of the agenda” next year, he told the news agency.
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Linda Nguyen, The Canadian Press