US Treasury chief confident of trade deal with Canada

Canada's top trade negotiator joins her Mexican and US counterparts in Washington in a bid to remain part of revamped NAFTA.
US President Donald Trump having a phone conversation with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto over trade on Monday. If talks with Canada are not wrapped up by the end of this week, Mr Trump plans to notify Congress that he has reached a deal with M
US President Donald Trump having a phone conversation with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto over trade on Monday. If talks with Canada are not wrapped up by the end of this week, Mr Trump plans to notify Congress that he has reached a deal with Mexico, said US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said that he believed the United States can reach a trade deal with Canada this week after coming to an agreement with Mexico.

"I think our objective is to try to get Canada aboard quickly," said Mr Mnuchin yesterday in an interview with CNBC.

He said he thought an agreement could be wrapped up this week.

The US and Mexico agreed on Monday to overhaul the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), putting pressure on Canada to agree to new terms on auto trade and dispute-settlement rules to remain a part of the three-nation pact.

Mr Mnuchin would not speculate on which issues might be problematic in the Canada talks, but said he did not anticipate there would be a lot of sticking points.

"The US market and the Canadian markets are very intertwined," he said. "It's important for them to get this deal and it's important for us to get this deal," he said.

The US and Mexico agreed on Monday to overhaul the North American Free Trade Agreement... Mr Mnuchin would not speculate on which issues might be problematic in the Canada talks, but said he did not anticipate there would be a lot of sticking points.

If talks with Canada are not wrapped up by the end of this week, US President Donald Trump plans to notify Congress that he has reached a deal with Mexico, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told reporters on Monday.

Mr Mnuchin said he believed that Congress would approve a separate deal.

Analysts were split on Canada's position in the trade negotiations with the US and Mexico.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland interrupted a trip to France, Germany and Ukraine and headed to Washington to resume negotiations yesterday to rewrite Nafta.

Canada "will only sign a new Nafta that is good for Canada", a spokesman for Ms Freeland had said on Monday.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had a "constructive conversation" with Mr Trump on the progress with Mexico, said the Prime Minister's Office.

The leaders now "look forward to having their teams engage this week with a view to a successful conclusion of negotiations".

But in the announcement with Mexican officials, Mr Trump took a hard line and said Ottawa would be left on the sidelines.

Trilateral talks started a year ago at the behest of Mr Trump, who railed against the original 1994 pact, calling it a "rip-off" and a "disaster", but now seems eager to close a new deal before the US mid-term elections in November.

Mexico's outgoing government is also keen to have a deal in place before handing on to incoming President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Dec 1.

Mr Lopez Obrador called for a three-way trade deal, saying it was important that Canada was also included.

US and Mexican officials met separately over the past five weeks to hammer out key bilateral issues before announcing the agreement that updates provisions on financial services, labour, e-commerce and, importantly, the auto trade.

"Canada is (now) going to be presented with more of a take-it-or-leave-it offer," said CIBC Economics analyst Avery Shenfeld.

But University of Ottawa professor Patrick Leblond said it would be political suicide for Mr Trudeau's Liberal administration, with one year before a general election, to give in to US demands for significantly greater access to Canada's protected dairy market.

Still, Mr Jerry Dias of the Canadian auto workers' union said that what was on the table "is a good start", pointing to labour and rules-of-origin provisions broadly outlined in the Mexico-US deal, which he said Mr Trudeau's negotiators are seeking.

Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said on Monday that the trade accord would have to be tweaked, particularly regarding rules of origin, if it ends up as a bilateral agreement without Canada.

He said Mexico's preference was for Canada to remain in the three-nation pact, but if it opted out, some parts of Monday's deal would have to be redesigned - such as auto content rules.

"It's not the same having integration between three countries as two," he added.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2018, with the headline 'US Treasury chief confident of trade deal with Canada'. Print Edition | Subscribe