Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walks with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017. Trudeau has told Trump that his threatened tariffs on steel and aluminum imports will not make a new NAFTA deal happen sooner. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

NAFTA: As deadline nears, Trudeau, Trump discuss prospects of quick deal

President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discussed the possibility Monday of immediately wrapping up a NAFTA deal

President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discussed the possibility Monday of immediately wrapping up a NAFTA deal despite signs of skepticism about whether that goal is feasible.

U.S. officials are sounding less than bullish about the prospects of a NAFTA deal by week’s end, which is considered the unofficial deadline for finalizing an agreement this year.

That’s because some view the de facto deadline as Thursday, high-level negotiators don’t even have a meeting time set yet for this week and one leading U.S. politician says none of the hot-button issues have been resolved.

The countries have been meeting frequently in an effort to get an agreement before national elections in Mexico and the U.S. delay the process until 2019.

The national leaders spoke by phone about getting a quick agreement. In a release Monday, Trudeau’s office said they talked about “bringing the negotiations to a prompt conclusion,” and the White House issued a statement saying, “President Trump underscored the importance of quickly concluding an agreement.”

Yet in an appearance at the National Press Club in Washington on Monday, Trump’s own commerce secretary responded in the negative when asked whether any major issues had been resolved lately.

“I don’t believe that any of the big hot topics (were),” Wilbur Ross said.

“The rules of origin, the (five-year) sunset provision, the dispute resolution provision, labour — big topics like that — are still a work in progress. Those are very complex issues — particularly rules of origin. So it eventually will come down to every comma, every semi-colon.”

Related: Canada loses NAFTA court challenge, reviving environmental concerns

Related: Political heavyweights hit Washington in hunt for NAFTA deal

There are several signs of a disconnect between the ambitions of those who want significant changes in the agreement and the vanishingly small window of time left to reach an agreement in the short term.

Take pharmaceuticals as one example. Last week, the U.S. signalled its desire to use trade deals to change the way drug prices are set abroad, in an effort to have other countries shoulder more of the costs of pharma research.

The U.S. has specifically complained about Canadian pricing policies.

Such a negotiation would surely be controversial, yet one person familiar with the talks said it has not substantially arisen, as autos remain the focus of the negotiation.

Dairy is another example.

It’s yet another politically sensitive issue that matters not only to Canadians, but also to major American politicians. Congressional leader Paul Ryan, who is from the dairy-producing state of Wisconsin, described it as another major unaddressed issue.

Ryan has dropped subtle hints of his own doubts about an immediate deal.

In a speech last week, the House speaker noted that he helped write the rules of the so-called fast-track legislation for passing a trade deal through the U.S. Congress.

He estimated that lawmakers would have to see the paper text of an agreement by this Thursday to meet all the procedural deadlines for a vote in 2018.

Ryan then stared at his watch, noted the date, and drew laughs from the audience.

“I’ll let you … draw the conclusion,” Ryan said. “There are a handful of unresolved issues. I’m just not,” he said, before cutting himself off, saying he didn’t want to make news.

In a meeting last week with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, Ryan described the deadlines embedded in the legislation he helped create.

In his speech Monday, the commerce secretary alluded to the fact Freeland met with lawmakers when she was in Washington last week, something officials from Canada and other countries do regularly.

Ross noted that other countries try working around U.S. negotiators, and deal directly with legislators.

“The Canadian lead negotiator was here in the States. She spent two-and-a-half hours in negotiations with us, and about 40 hours lobbying Capitol Hill,” Ross said.

“That’s not an unusual ratio for foreign countries. They try to get around us through the political process.”

Ross’s math was a little off. While it’s true Freeland did meet with lawmakers, she spent several hours on Capitol Hill, far fewer than the number of Ross suggested.

Another ongoing element of uncertainty involves steel and aluminum tariffs.

The tariffs are scheduled to hit Canada and Mexico on June 1, depending on the NAFTA outcome. Ross wouldn’t say what would happen, when asked about the tariffs: “You’ll be the first to know on June 1… Or maybe a little before.”

Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Surrey-based group maps places to find affordable food

Surrey and White Rock Food Coalition targets food security

Youth and seniors learn from each other

Seniors Health Network launches intergenerational program in White Rock

Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society raises $8,000

Donations collected at Christmas event last week

Realtor blanket drive collects 360 bags of clothing

Annual event helps South Surrey and White Rock residents in need

VIDEO: Hundreds of volunteers collect, wrap toys in Surrey at Sikh elementary school

Guru Nanak Free Kitchen, Sikh Academy partner together on annual toy drive

MAP: Christmas light displays in Surrey, Langley and beyond

Send us pictures of your National Lampoon-style lit-up homes, nativity scenes or North Pole playlands

Canucks score 3 power-play goals in 4-2 win over Oilers

Vancouver sniper Boeser has 6 goals in last 5 games

VIDEO: Giants head into holidays with a win at home

Vancouver G-Men don’t play next until Dec. 28, after 2-1 victory over Prince George Sunday.

Microscopic parasite found in Prince Rupert water affecting thousands

More than 12,000 residents affected by the boil water advisory issued Dec. 14

Trudeau lashes out at Conservatives over migration “misinformation”

Warning against the “dangers of populism,” Trudeau says using immigration as a wedge political issue puts Canada’s future at risk.

B.C. hockey coach creates ‘gear library’ to remove cost barrier of sport

Todd Hickling gathered donations and used gear to remove the cost barrier for kids to play hockey.

VIDEO: Giants fall to Royals 4-2 in Victoria Saturday night

Second loss in as many days for G-Men, who are back home in Langley today to take on the Cougars.

Canada’s ambassador meets with second detainee in China

Global Affairs says John McCallum, Canada’s ambassador to China, met with Spavor Sunday

‘They’re coming:’ Flying cars may appear in urban skies by 2023

Air taxis will number 15,000 and become a global market worth $32 billion by 2035

Most Read