Freeland wears 'Keep Calm and Negotiate NAFTA' T-shirt on eve of talks
OTTAWA – When Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland landed in Washington, D.C., Tuesday night on the eve of high-level NAFTA talks, her T-shirt seemed to do the talking.
Freeland was spotted leaving the U.S. airport wearing a white shirt with two messages written in bold black text. On the back of her shirt: “Keep Calm and Negotiate NAFTA.” On the front: “Mama ≠ Chopped Liver.”
“The shirt is a Christmas gift my children gave to me,” Freeland told CTV News as she left the airport with her team, who were mostly dressed in formal attire.
Asked if the T-shirt might be good luck for the Wednesday negotiations, Freeland said: “I hope so.”
It’s unclear whether or not the fashion choice was meant to send a direct message to American negotiators, including U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, ahead of the all-important Wednesday meeting, just 11 days before the American deadline to provide Congress with updated text of the deal.
Freeland, a former journalist, is typically careful with her words during press briefings on NAFTA developments. She has not been spotted wearing the T-shirt before or any clothing with NAFTA-related messages.
Freeland’s trip comes as a top Republican in the House of Representatives issued a serious warning: patience and time is running out for Canada to come on board a revised trilateral North American trade deal.
House Majority Whip and Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise released a statement Tuesday in which he said that "there is a growing frustration with many in Congress regarding Canada’s negotiating tactics," and that they’re concerned Canada isn't willing to make the necessary concessions.
U.S. President Donald Trump echoed this sentiment Tuesday afternoon during a joint press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda.
"Canada has taken advantage of our country for a long time. We love Canada, we love it, love the people of Canada. But they are in a position that is not a good position for Canada,” Trump said.
"They cannot continue to charge us 300 per cent tariff on dairy products. And that's what they're doing."
The Sept. 30 deadline was triggered by Trump informing Congress on Aug. 31 that he intends to sign a trade agreement with Mexico, and Canada, if willing.
The U.S. and Mexico were able to come to a consensus after a period of bilateral negotiations, and since their agreement was announced, Freeland and the negotiating team have been back and forth to Washington, D.C. for discussions over the remaining Canada-U.S. sticking points, which include possible concessions on supply management, maintaining the dispute resolution mechanism, and protecting Canadian cultural industries.
"Mexico negotiated in good faith and in a timely manner. It's time for Canada to do the same," Scalise tweeted alongside his full statement.
"While we would all like to see Canada remain part of this three-country coalition, there is not an unlimited amount of time for it to be part of this new agreement," Scalise said. "If Canada does not cooperate in the negotiations, Congress will have no choice but to consider options about how best to move forward."
Earlier in the day in Ottawa, Freeland said she hadn’t seen Scalise’s statement but she asserted that Canada remains cooperative, and that the talks are going well. She said that it’s her duty to stand up for the national interest, downplaying the pressure of the Sept. 30 deadline.
"One of Canada’s national characteristics is a talent for compromise. We’re good at finding compromises," Freeland said Tuesday in the House of Commons foyer after a cabinet meeting.
Freeland told reporters that she spoke with Lighthizer on Monday and the pair agreed that "based on the work our officials have been doing, that tomorrow will be a good time," for the two of them to go back to the negotiating table.
She said that Canada's sole focus is on getting a deal that is fair for Canadians, and not by any prescribed timeline. The federal government has been tempering expectations of an imminent deal, repeating that, while they’re close, Canada won't sign on to just any agreement.
Freeland said Tuesday that she “absolutely” believes that no deal would be better than a bad deal.
"Any negotiator who goes in to a negotiation believing that he or she must get a deal at any price, that is a negotiator who will be forced to pay the maximum price for that deal," Freeland said.
The fate of the trade pact was brought up throughout the day on Parliament Hill, with Opposition parties continuing their critiques of the Liberal's handling of the talks, and raising ongoing concerns about the impacts on Canadian workers.
With files from CTV's Michel Boyer, Richard Madan and Katie Damman
Full #NAFTA statement from @SteveScalise blasts “a growing frustration with many in Congress regarding Canada's negotiating tactics ... Canada does not seem to be ready or willing to make the concessions that are necessary” #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/waDG9NHou7— Richard Madan (@RichardMadan) September 18, 2018