WASHINGTON – The Trump administration appears virtually certain to miss its self-imposed weekend deadline for reaching an agreement with Canada on a new North American trade deal, according to U.S. officials and people close to the talks.
A downbeat U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Tuesday that negotiators are “sort of running out of time” to include Canada in the trade deal with Mexico, which was finalized last month.
If the remaining gaps cannot be bridged in the next few days, the administration will request congressional approval of a Mexico-only deal, Lighthizer said in New York at the Concordia Summit, an annual policy conference.
That would open President Donald Trump to intense criticism from key Republican lawmakers, including Sen. John Cornyn, Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, as well as leading business groups, which favor preserving a unified North American market.
“Everyone’s desire is for this to be a three-country agreement,” said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “That still is the top priority for everyone —Canada, the U.S., Mexico as well — and lawmakers.”
The administration wants to make public details of a new North American accord by Sunday to meet a timetable permitting the current Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, to sign it on his final day in office November 30.
Major disagreements remain over Canada’s dairy management program, a dispute resolution process and the fate of U.S. tariffs on metals imports from Canada.
“There’s still a fair amount of distance between us. There are very large issues,” Lighthizer said, playing down chances of a deal.
At a separate event in New York, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau showed no interest in accepting the U.S.-Mexico terms as written. That deal would raise to 75 percent from the current 62.5 percent the percentage of each vehicle that must be made in the United States or Mexico to qualify for duty-free treatment.
It would also require a significant portion of each vehicle to be produced by workers making at least $16 per hour, a challenge for Mexico’s low-wage manufacturing centers.
“There’s a possibility there to build on what they agreed, but we know that Canada’s interests are what we have to stand up for and we will,” Trudeau told the Council on Foreign Relations. “My focus on this throughout has been simply not escalating. Not opining. Not weighing in. My job is very simple. It’s to defend Canada’s interests, stand up for Canadians.”
The chief U.S. trade negotiator is scheduled to meet with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York. But there is little chance of a last-minute deal, according to a senior administration official, who asked for anonymity to discuss confidential talks.
The two officials have no additional negotiations scheduled between now and the deadline.
Under the president’s existing trade promotion authority (TPA), the administration must make public the text of any new treaty 60 days before it is signed.