US said to stress Friday Nafta deadline as Canada joins talks

Canada’s foreign minister has rejoined Nafta talks as a US deadline looms this Friday to reach a deal to renew the pact as a three-country agreement.

Chrystia Freeland arrived just before 17:00 at the Washington office of US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and emerged an hour later. There was little substance to talks Tuesday between Freeland and Lighthizer, who will meet again Wednesday morning, a US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The US made it clear that the deadline for an agreement in principle is Friday, with no wiggle room, the official said. Despite US-Mexico progress, key issues remain for Canada, although markets are betting a deal will be reached that includes Canada.

Lighthizer didn’t speak to reporters. Freeland struck a positive tone before and after, saying aspects of an accord struck without Canada at the table will help advance other issues. She said it will be an “important and constructive week” and that Canada was encouraged by progress made without them.

‘Significant concessions’

“What has really paved the way for what Canada believes will be a good week is the fact that Mexico has made significant concessions on labour,” she said. "These concessions really are going to be valuable to workers in Canada and the United States."

The US side noted during the meeting that they’ve already compromised on the issue of the sunset clause, which was a sticking point for Canada, and that they hope that helps pave the way to a quick deal, the US official said.

Freeland was scheduled to meet Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo later Tuesday in Washington.

The US and Mexico announced a deal Monday after weeks of talks with just the two nations - excluding Nafta’s third partner, Canada. US President Donald Trump is now using that agreement to pressure Canada to come on board, though several key issues remain.

There are also warnings that US trade law will prevent, or impede, Trump from ramming ahead on a quick timeline with only a two-country deal, and key figures in Congress are calling for Canada to be included. Trump has threatened to apply auto tariffs to Canadian exports if a deal isn’t reached.

The nations are pushing to sign a deal before Mexico’s president-elect takes office December 1. Due to timelines set out in US trade law, the US would need to notify congress of a deal by Friday, Lighthizer said this week. However, he said a notification could be sent that left open the possibility of Canada reaching a deal sometime after Friday.

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