Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland gave a cold shoulder to U.S. President Donald Trump and cozied up instead to her American trade counterpart Friday as Canada’s effort to re-enter the North American free-trade fold fell short of meeting its end-of-week deadline.
With a pledge to resume talks next week, Freeland spoke of progress, of optimism and of her determination to get a deal that’s good for Canadians – a remarkable show of restraint on a day that began with another blast of now-familiar Trump bombast that landed like an anvil on the negotiating table.
Any deal with Canada would be “totally on our terms,” the Toronto Star quoted Trump as saying in an off-the-record aside during an interview with Bloomberg News.
“If I say no – the answer’s no. If I say no, then you’re going to put that, and it’s going to be so insulting they’re not going to be able to make a deal,” he reportedly said, adding: “I can’t kill these people.”
Freeland studiously avoided talking about the remarks all day, never once mentioning the president by name during her multiple media appearances, including a long-awaited news conference at the Canadian embassy.
Indeed, whenever Trump’s name came up, she showered her opposite number – U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer – with praise, suggesting the two of them are engaged in a joint effort to overcome their mutual impasse, regardless of what the White House might think.
“My negotiating counterparty is Ambassador Lighthizer and, as I’ve said, he has brought good faith and goodwill to the table,” she said when asked directly about Trump’s comments.
“I have now been working with Ambassador Lighthizer and his team for more than a year. We have had some very intense periods of working together and Ambassador Lighthizer and his team are very experienced professionals. And they absolutely do bring good faith and goodwill to the negotiating table.”
Pressed once more to talk Trump, she said curtly: “I’ll take the next question.”
Trump confirmed the authenticity of the Bloomberg News remarks in an afternoon tweet.
“Wow, I made OFF THE RECORD COMMENTS to Bloomberg concerning Canada, and this powerful understanding was BLATANTLY VIOLATED,” Trump wrote – ignoring the fact that the remarks were reported via an anonymous source by the Star, unencumbered by any such restrictions.
“Oh well, just more dishonest reporting. I am used to it. At least Canada knows where I stand!”
Just prior to Freeland’s news conference, the USTR confirmed Trump had notified Congress that he intends to sign a trade agreement in 90 days with Mexico – and Canada, if Ottawa decides to join in. The talks are scheduled to resume Wednesday in Washington.
“Today the president notified the Congress of his intent to sign a trade agreement with Mexico – and Canada, if it is willing – 90 days from now,” Lighthizer said in a statement Friday.
“We have also been negotiating with Canada throughout this year-long process. This week those meetings continued at all levels. The talks were constructive, and we made progress. Our officials are continuing to work toward agreement.”
Throughout the day Friday, it became increasingly clear that Canada and the U.S. would be unable to reach an agreement. Dispute settlement, Canada’s cultural exemption and access to Canada’s dairy market continue to be obstacles to a deal.
But, by the end of the day, both sides expressed optimism heading into next week.
“We know that a win-win-win agreement is within reach and that’s what we’re working towards,” Freeland said.
Trump, according to the Star report, said he frequently reminds Canada that if necessary he will slap painful tariffs on auto imports. Such a move, experts warn, would inflict heavy damage on the countries’ deeply integrated auto sector.
“Off the record, Canada’s working their ass off. And every time we have a problem with a point, I just put up a picture of a Chevrolet Impala,” he said. The Impala is built at the General Motors plant in Oshawa, Ont.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking at an event Friday in Oshawa, brushed off a question about Trump’s comments, saying that “over the past year and a half there’s a lot of things that have been said from time to time.”
This week’s new round of U.S.-Canada negotiations had initially 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 persisted.
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 – backed by Quebec politicians of all stripes – 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.
— With files from Mike Blanchfield and Andy Blatchford in Ottawa