Freeland to hold NAFTA talks Tuesday

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Candian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks to journalists outside the U.S. Trade Representative's office in Washington on Aug. 28. (Photo: Reuters/Chris Wattie)

Ottawa | Reuters — Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland will meet U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Washington on Tuesday for another round of talks to renew the NAFTA trade pact, an official said on Monday, as time runs short to seal a deal.

Freeland spokesman Adam Austen did not give details. After more than a year of negotiations, Canada and the U.S. are still trying to resolve differences over the North American Free Trade Agreement, which also includes Mexico.

U.S. officials say time is running out to agree on a text on which the current Congress can vote. Canadian officials say they are working on the assumption they have until the end of September.

Freeland spent three days in Washington last week and said on Friday as she prepared to leave that she and Lighthizer were making very good progress in some areas, although a deal remained out of reach.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who says he is prepared to tear up NAFTA, has struck a trade deal with Mexico and threatened to push ahead without Canada.

Uncertainty over the future of NAFTA, which underpins US$1.2 trillion in trade, is weighing on markets as well as the Canadian and Mexican currencies.

Officials say the main sticking points are Canada’s dairy quota regime, Ottawa’s desire to keep a dispute-resolution mechanism, and Canadian media laws that favour domestically produced content.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, speaking in an interview broadcast on Sunday, said Canada had to scrap a low-price milk proteins policy to reach a deal on NAFTA. U.S. farmers complain Canada is flooding export markets.

“Our farmers don’t have access to the Canadian markets the way that they have access to us. Class 7 has to go. It can’t be renamed something or called something else,” Perdue said on C-SPAN, referring to the milk class created last year by Canada to price milk ingredients such as protein concentrates, skim milk and whole milk powder.

Austen, asked whether Freeland might return to Washington later in the week, said no decisions had been taken. She is due to attend a two-day meeting of legislators from the ruling Liberal Party on Wednesday and Thursday in Saskatoon.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last Wednesday he did not see the need to attend the talks for the time being.

— David Ljunggren is Reuters’ political correspondent in Ottawa.

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