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Freeland in D.C. to support a push to get the new NAFTA ratified, agreement close sources say
OTTAWA -- Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland travelled to Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to meet with U.S. and Mexican trade officials in a new push to get the renegotiated NAFTA deal ratified.
Her trip south comes as the Democrats and the U.S. administration are very close to concluding negotiations on adjustments to the new NAFTA, sources tell CTV News.
Freeland, who despite no longer being foreign affairs minister has retained the responsibility for the Canada-U.S. file in part to see the trilateral trade deal through to its conclusion, made the trip because ratification in the U.S. may be getting closer.
Wednesday evening Freeland met with Lighthizer and Mexico Undersecretary for North America Jesús Seade behind closed doors. She called it a “good” trilateral meeting and said she was glad to be in D.C. working on getting the deal “across the finish line.” She said she’s been in regular contact with both her U.S. and Mexican counterparts throughout the week.
In advance of American Thanksgiving, the three countries have been meeting to talk about potential alterations that would encourage the progressive Democrats to come on board with supporting the agreement to ensure that the ratification moves forward.
“Canada believes in this agreement, we have a strong interest in having this deal ratified in all three countries, and we’re very supportive of the efforts being made… and we were here to work to support all of those efforts,” Freeland told reporters.
Talks behind closed doors are set to continue and all sides are working towards getting an agreement, and will continue talking over “the next few days,” Freeland said, noting that plans for additional meetings are a work in progress.
Upon her arrival at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office Freeland was greeted by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and was accompanied by Canada’s chief trade negotiator Steve Verheul and acting ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman.
U.S. Democrats in Congress led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi have been in talks with the U.S. administration about potential changes to the agreement in order to secure their support, which is needed to see the trade deal pass through the Democrat-controlled House.
Sources tell CTV News that a deal in principle between the Democrats and the U.S. administration could be reached as early as Wednesday, and that’s why Freeland headed down. She spent her morning with the Liberal cabinet at a closed-door “orientation session” at Meech Lake in Chelsea, Que.
This agreement, whether a side letter, an addendum, or in another form remains unclear but sources said that it is focused on the labour-related provisions. A key sticking point for the Democrats has been ensuring that labour standards and workplace inspections would be enforced in Mexico.
U.S. President Donald Trump and his White House have consistently indicated their desire to see USMCA -- as the Americans call it -- done and passed by the end of this year, leaving a limited runway left to see that come to fruition before lawmakers end their session ahead of the holidays and before the ongoing impeachment hearings and focus on the 2020 presidential race become all-encompassing.
Two days ago, Pelosi issued a statement saying that an improved agreement was “within range,” and were waiting to see “progress in writing” from Lighthizer for a final review.
Earlier this month, U.S. congressional representatives including U.S. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal travelled to Ottawa for meetings with Trudeau and Freeland to discuss the ongoing ratification process.
The deal itself was reached in late September 2018. So far just Mexico has ratified the agreement, but in order for the deal — which was 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.
In Canada the bill to implement the new deal made it through second reading in the House of Commons before dying on the order paper when the 42nd Parliament ended in September upon the election call. Now, the Liberal minority will have to re-introduce the legislation when the new Parliament convenes on Dec. 5. With the House only scheduled to sit for just over a week before breaking until late January, it's yet to be seen how quickly the re-tabled legislation will be able to move.
Since the deal was reached, the Liberals have said they intend to move in tandem with the Americans on ratification.
With files from CTV National News Ottawa Bureau Chief Joyce Napier