OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada's ratification of the new NAFTA deal won't happen until the fall, now that the U.S. House of Representatives has wrapped up its summer session without signing off on the agreement.
Since the deal was reached, the Liberals have said they intended to move in tandem with the Americans when it comes to ratification of the new North American Free Trade Agreement.
With lawmakers to the south leaving Capitol Hill for a five-week break without passing the new deal, Trudeau's comments seem to chill the prospect of a summer recall of Parliament in order to see the deal passed in Canada before the federal election campaign begins.
If Congress manages to get the new NAFTA ratified after its break and before Trudeau has dropped the writ for the Oct. 21 election, there may be a window of a few days to get it done, but it would have to be before Sept. 15. That's the latest that the campaign can begin under the current rules.
"We of course benefit right now from the existing NAFTA that ensures that Canadians are well-served with good and reliable access to the North American market," Trudeau told reporters in Vancouver on Monday. "But we also look forward to ratification of the new NAFTA, but we will do that in line with the American process when it picks up again this fall."
The House of Commons adjourned on June 20, leaving the bill in limbo and members of cabinet cautioning that a summer recall may be required.
Trudeau was in Washington, D.C. when the House rose, discussing ratification with U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Asked on Monday if he could have done anything more to convince Pelosi of the merits of the deal, Trudeau said he understands the "difficult partisan context in Washington right now between the Democrats and the Republicans."
Canada's Ambassador to the U.S. David MacNaughton had said earlier in the spring that he expected U.S. Congress to pass the renegotiated USMCA deal by the end of July. Though, the Democrats said they would need to see changes to the agreement before it would receive their backing.
In order for the deal — which was reached in late September and signed in November after nearly 14 months of negotiations — to come into force, it needs to be ratified by all three countries in their respective legislative bodies. Mexico has already ratified the new NAFTA.
The agreement has been heralded as a win by all three countries although concessions were made, including on access to Canada's supply-managed sectors. Since the signing, all attention has been focused on ratification given that the existing NAFTA will remain in place until its revamped version is fully ratified.
Trudeau's latest comments offer an indication that if the new NAFTA is not ratified before the writ drops, the Liberals may focus their messaging on the merits of the existing deal and the fact that they were the government to navigate the often contentious renegotiation process.