Canada's Freeland says 'we're not there yet' on NAFTA deal following explosive Trump comments on trade talks

  • Canada's top trade negotiator says the country and the United States have not yet reached a trade agreement.
  • Negotiators face a Friday deadline for Canada to join a preliminary deal reached by the U.S. and Mexico.

Canada's top trade negotiator Chrystia Freeland said Friday that the country's delegation and American officials had not reached a deal on a new North American Free Trade Agreement heading into Labor Day weekend.

Late Friday afternoon, the Canadian minister of Foreign Affairs said that the two parties will continue to work towards a deal, maintaining that "we're not there yet" on an agreement.

"We know that a win-win-win agreement is within reach," Freeland told reporters. "With goodwill and flexibility on all sides, I know we can get there."

The latest round of talks paused at least temporarily Friday ahead of Freeland's news conference. Though reports suggested the negotiations stopped as the parties passed the Trump administration's Friday target with no agreement, an administration official disputed that and said they would continue.

Freeland's comments came after a Toronto Star report that Trump privately said he would not make any compromises in trade talks with Canada. In remarks to Bloomberg News reporters that the president wanted to be off the record, Trump said that he would not publicly state his positions because "it's going to be so insulting they're not going to be able to make a deal," according to the Star report.

Trump later confirmed his comments reported in the Toronto Star, saying "At least Canada knows where I stand!"

During the news conference, Freeland declined to comment on specific sticking points between the U.S. and Canada. She also did not comment on Trump's remarks and negotiating tactics, saying her negotiating counterpart is U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

The Trump administration originally gave Canada a Friday deadline to hash out its differences with the U.S. and join a preliminary, new trade agreement struck by the U.S. and Mexico earlier in the week. In the morning, Freeland stressed that Canada would not strike a deal if the country is not satisfied with it.

"We're looking for a good deal, not just any deal. We will only agree to a deal that is a good deal for Canada. We're not there yet," she told reporters.

Negotiations are set to resume on Wednesday.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland arrives for trade talks at the office of the US Trade Representative in Washington, DC, August 29, 2018. 
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland arrives for trade talks at the office of the US Trade Representative in Washington, DC, August 29, 2018. 

President Donald Trump has sought to revise the three-nation trade agreement, which he says has punished American workers since it went into effect more than 20 years ago. The president has used tariffs on Canadian and Mexican goods to bring the countries to the negotiating table and wants them to drop their own barriers on certain products.

Speaking at an event later Friday, the president said "we love Canada" and offering to sing the Canadian national anthem. He then added that "they have taken advantage of us."

The U.S. has focused in particular on Canada's agricultural policy, which Trump contends has unfairly curbed sales of U.S. dairy products there. He also aims to boost American farmers in Midwestern states who helped to propel him to the White House. Many of those farmers have taken a hit from the effects of the White House's mounting trade conflicts with China, Canada, Mexico and the European Union.

Trump already formally notified Congress on Friday that he wants to sign a trade agreement with Mexico, and potentially Canada in 90 days, the period legally required to review a deal, Lighthizer said in a statement.

In a statement earlier Friday, the Office of the United States Trade Representative said that talks are "ongoing" and "there have been no concessions by Canada on agriculture."

Speaking in Canada as the talks were ongoing, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would defend Canada's management of dairy supply. He noted that Canada would only sign a "good" NAFTA deal.

Trump's comments reported by the Star are unlikely to help the sides move closer to a deal. In the interview with Bloomberg, he reportedly said he wanted a potential deal to be "totally on our terms."

He added that "every time we have a problem with a point, I just put up a picture of a Chevrolet Impala." Trump was referencing his threats to impose tariffs on Canadian automobiles and parts.

Bloomberg did not report Trump's remarks, and it is unclear how the Star found out about them. Daniel Dale, the Star reporter who wrote the story, tweeted that the White House did not dispute their authenticity.

A Bloomberg spokesperson said that "when we agree that something is off the record, we respect that."

In a statement, 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."

On Wednesday, Trump said he was "optimistic" Canada would join the trade agreement.

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