No deal yet as NAFTA renegotiation talks turn bitter at critical stage

No deal yet as NAFTA renegotiation talks turn bitter at critical stage

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Trade Representative says Canada has made no concessions to the United States on the thorny issue of dairy access as talks grind on towards today’s deadline to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In a written statement, the USTR says the talks with Canada continue but “there have been no concessions by Canada on agriculture.”

Similarly, Canadian officials tell The Canadian Press today that expectations that a NAFTA deal is imminent are exaggerated and premature.

The sobering assessment comes as Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland is back at the NAFTA table in Washington this morning with today’s deadline looming over the talks to bring Canada back into the North American free-trade fold.

Freeland has been in meetings all week with her American counterpart, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. They met late into the evening Thursday in search of a compromise in time for the deadline imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump.

“We’ve all had a night to reflect, and I’m looking forward to hearing what Ambassador Lighthizer has to say this morning,” she said before heading into her latest meeting.

This week’s new round of U.S.-Canada negotiations had generated hopeful signals from both camps that a deal could be struck by the end of the week — but difficult discussions about dairy and dispute settlement remain, and were holding back progress on Friday morning.

Trump has repeatedly criticized Canada’s dairy industry and has used the threat of tariffs on Canada’s auto production to push for concessions. But Canada’s dairy industry is adamant that it won’t stand for the government allowing the U.S. any more market access, saying it has compromised enough on past trade deals with the European Union and Pacific Rim countries.

Another lingering sticking point is Chapter 19, set up to resolve disputes among the three countries and industry around how to implement NAFTA rules. The U.S. wants it out of the deal, but Canada says it must be included.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a conference call Thursday with premiers to discuss trade-offs, and in a statement said the federal government was committed to winning the best possible terms for Canada.

— With files from Mike Blanchfield and Andy Blatchford in Ottawa

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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