WASHINGTON >> President Donald Trump has notified Congress that he plans to sign a trade agreement with Mexico — and Canada, if it is willing — in 90 days, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said today.
Lighthizer made the announcement in a statement after high-stakes talks that the Trump administration and Canadian officials have been holding in Washington broke up today without a deal. Lighthizer said the talks will resume Wednesday.
The talks are intended to bring Canada into a new trade accord that would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The flurry of events followed a preliminary agreement that the United States and Mexico reached Monday to replace NAFTA with an arrangement that is intended, among other things, to shift more auto manufacturing to the United States.
The Trump administration had insisted that it wanted a deal by today, beginning a 90-day countdown that would let Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto sign the pact before leaving office Dec. 1.
But under U.S. trade rules, the U.S. team wouldn’t have to make public the text of the revamped agreement for 30 additional days, possibly buying more time to reach a deal with the Canadians. Lighthizer’s statement today said Trump intends to sign a new trade deal with Mexico, whether or not Canada is part of it.
Earlier today Trump was quoted as saying privately that he wouldn’t make compromises with Canada in their trade talks. His remarks raised doubts about whether the two countries could quickly reach a deal to keep Canada in the 24-year-old trading bloc, along with the United States and Mexico.
The Toronto Star obtained the president’s comments from an interview that he gave to Bloomberg News on Thursday. Trump wanted the comments to remain private. Otherwise, the president reportedly said in the interview, “it’s going to be so insulting they’re not going to be able to make a deal.”
Trump’s comments, and the dim picture they drew of the U.S.-Canada negotiations, appeared to dishearten Wall Street, where traders sent stock prices falling in the wake of the report.
Today, Trump took to Twitter and appeared to confirm the Star’s report:
“Wow, I made OFF THE RECORD COMMENTS to Bloomberg concerning Canada, and this powerful understanding was BLATANTLY VIOLATED. Oh well, just more dishonest reporting. I am used to it. At least Canada knows where I stand!”
Later, at an appearance in North Carolina, Trump railed against the disclosure of his private comments but again appeared to confirm them.
After the United States and Mexico reached its preliminary agreement Monday, Canada’s top trade envoy, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, rushed to Washington on Tuesday to try to negotiate Canada’s way back into a new version of NAFTA. The U.S.-Canadian talks had been ongoing since then.
After sounding optimistic Thursday, Freeland appeared gloomier on today.
“We are looking for a good deal, not just any deal,” she told reporters, “and we will only agree to a deal that is a good deal for Canada. We are not there yet.”
The U.S. and Canada are wrangling over several tough issues, including American demands for greater access to the Canadian dairy market and Canada’s insistence on maintaining NAFTA’s existing procedure for resolving disputes.
The Star’s report on Trump’s off-the-record remarks appeared to complicate matters. In response, Lindsay Walters, a White House spokeswoman, said only, “The Canadian and American negotiators continue to work on reaching a win-win deal that benefits both countries.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has endured a rocky relationship with Trump, fended off a question about the American president’s comments at a news conference today.
“Over the past year and a half, there’s a lot of things that have been said from time to time,” Trudeau said. “Our government’s approach is always to stay constructive, positive and engage on the substance of issues.”
Likewise, Jerry Dias, president of the Canadian private-sector union Unifor, dismissed Trump’s comments:
“It is Trump’s bluster at best, but obviously he is not going to force anyone into a bad deal,” Dias said. “It is clear the U.S. economy is much bigger than ours, but trying to embarrass the Canadian team, trying to insult Canadians, is not going to get him anywhere.”