Trump claims he rejected a meeting with Trudeau over NAFTA — but Canada says it never asked to meet

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump says he declined a one-on-one meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the United Nations General Assembly.
  • Canada's government says it never requested a meeting. 
  • The neighbors are struggling to reach terms on a revised North American trade deal.
  • The U.S. is preparing to move forward on a trade agreement with only Mexico.
Canada has treated us very badly: Trump
Canada has treated us very badly: Trump

President Donald Trump claimed Wednesday that he rejected a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week as the countries struggle to reach a new trade deal.

However, "no meeting was requested" by the Canadian government, Trudeau spokeswoman Eleanore Catenaro said. It underscores the simmering trade tensions between the neighbors and rocky personal relationship between their leaders.

The Trump administration is scrambling to meet a self-imposed Oct. 1 deadline to strike a new North American trade agreement among the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Mexico has already signed on to a deal to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.

So far, the U.S. and its northern neighbor have struggled to come to terms — and Trump is again using tariff threats as leverage to bring trading partners to the table.

"His tariffs are too high, and he doesn't seem to want to move, and I've told him forget about it, and frankly, we're thinking about just taxing cars coming in from Canada," Trump told reporters in explaining why he did not want to meet one-on-one with Trudeau at the United Nations General Assembly. "That's the mother lode. That's the big one."

"We're very unhappy with the negotiations and the negotiating style of Canada. We don't like their representative [Chrystia Freeland] very much," Trump added during a news conference.

Correction: Text of US-Mexico trade deal expected Friday, not Thursday
Correction: Text of US-Mexico trade deal expected Friday, not Thursday
  1. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer
  2. aims to issue the text of a trade deal with only the U.S. and Mexico
  3. as early as Friday, two sources told CNBC. The framework would allow Canada to join the agreement at a later date, one source said.

On Tuesday, Lighthizer said the U.S. would "go ahead" on a deal without Canada. But "if Canada comes along now, that would be the best," he added.

The biggest remaining disagreement appears to be over Canada's dairy tariffs. Trump cited the duties in listing his frustrations with Canada on Wednesday.

The Trump administration also put tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada this year, increasing tensions between the countries.

As a candidate, the president railed against NAFTA, saying it nudged companies to leave the U.S. and punished American workers. He pledged to revise the trade deal, which took effect more than 20 years ago.

Most lawmakers have pushed the Trump administration to include Canada in a trade deal, and many have questioned the legality of moving forward without all three NAFTA members. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has said a bilateral North American deal brings "serious" legal doubts.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other powerful pro-business groups have also argued striking a deal without Canada would be a mistake.

Update: This story was updated to reflect that the Canadian government says Trudeau did not ask for a one-on-one meeting with Trump.