Politics

Trade Talks With Canada Stall, but White House Hopeful of Deal

‘The Senate will make it’s own decisions,’ a senior administration official said

U.S. President Donald Trump departs the White House July 31, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The Trump administration’s trade talks with Canada stalled Friday without a pact, but the White House told Congress it still intends to include America’s northern neighbor in a preliminary U.S.-Mexico deal. Lawmakers have been firm the White House should only send them a three-way agreement.

President Donald Trump intends to finalize a deal with Mexico “and Canada, if it is willing” in 90 days, a senior administration official said Friday. “With respect to Canada … we believe we made progress. We continue to work toward an agreement.”

Trump on Monday announced a trade deal with Mexico aimed at revamping parts of the North American Free Trade Agreement, but Canadian officials still must sign off on the pact. The two countries began talks Tuesday with a Trump administration-set Friday deadline to find a way to include Ottawa, but those talks failed to produce a pact as the workweek ended.

Negotiations are scheduled to resume on Wednesday, with the senior administration saying “we are on pace” to finish a deal in 90 days. But he was only cautiously optimistic about Canada joining, saying “hopefully” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government will sign on.

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Republican and Democratic members alike warned this week Canada must be on board for Congress to bless any eventual pact.

The administration intends to use Trade Promotion Authority to secure the deal, which would set up votes on Capitol Hill on any pact.

“In terms of what happens when it goes up to the Hill … sometimes that process can take some time. Sometimes it can go more quickly.  ... A lot of that is going to be determined by folks up on the Hill,” said the senior administration official when asked how quickly lawmakers might take to approve or reject a possible agreement. “The Senate will make its own decisions.”

The official, however, did not directly answer a question about whether a trade authority measure passed by lawmakers that unlocks TPA would even allow a U.S.-Mexico deal to meet the standard of getting a required floor vote.

The president himself appeared to erect a new roadblock to finding an agreement with an allegedly off-the-record remark Thursday during an Oval Office session with reporters from Bloomberg.

He told the reporters Canada eventually will have to make a trade deal with his administration. Shortly before the call, Trump used an unrelated event in Charlotte to blast Bloomberg journalists for allegedly making public an off-the-record comment he made about Canada and the trade talks during a Thursday interview. He accused the Bloomberg team with violating “an honor.”

“At least Canada knows how I feel,” Trump said. “It’s fine.”

The president, in a tweet and the comments at an event in Charlotte an hour later, did not deny uttering what he acknowledged was a strong viewpoint about where the Canada-U.S. trade talks are heading.

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Asked before the officials briefed reporters about any impact the president’s remark had on the trade negotiations, White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said, “The Canadian and American negotiators continue to work on reaching a win-win deal that benefits both countries.”

Trump campaigned hard on revamping America’s trade relationships with most of the rest of the world, at times singling out both Canada and Mexico for what he has dubbed “unfair” tactics. The president has threatened to scrap NAFTA if all three countries cannot agree on a new three-way agreement; if Canada opts out, Monday’s announcement could be a step toward a U.S.-Mexico deal. He long has said he favors trade pacts only between Washington and one other country.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Monday that NAFTA had “gotten out of whack” and “created big trade deficits,” something that has long irked Trump. On a midday call with reporters, he said administration officials “hope Canada can join” and predicted the — for now — two-country deal would lead to a “rebalancing” of the U.S.-Mexico trade relationship.

Lighthizer contended it will mean “more jobs for American workers and farmers, but also more workers and farmers from Mexico.” On automobile trade, the top U.S. trade representative said the new pact would put in place the “highest standards,” adding the same would be true for “intellectual property and digital trade and financial services.”

Lighthizer also said he is optimistic the trade pact will receive “overwhelming” bipartisan support, in part because of revised labor provisions that he sees as attractive to Democratic members.

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