‘Fiendishly complex’ auto sector still the hardest NAFTA hurdle to clear: Freeland

Auto sector negotiations most difficult for NAFTA talks: Freeland
WATCH ABOVE: Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland tells Eric Sorensen that she is hopeful they will come up with new ideas and solutions to some of the outstanding issues in the NAFTA negotiations.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says the automotive sector remains one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the renegotiation of NAFTA, calling it “fiendishly complex.”

“At this point in the negotiation, the key area of discussion — probably the most complicated issue and the most difficult issue that we’re grappling with at the moment — is actually in the auto sector,” the minister told Global News’ Eric Sorensen on this weekend’s edition of The West Block.

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Kathleen Wynne says auto sector glad NAFTA negotiations ongoing, ‘most important’ to industry
Kathleen Wynne says auto sector glad NAFTA negotiations ongoing, ‘most important’ to industry

Specifically, issues surrounding rules of origin have been a major focus for the United States, which is sticking closely to President Donald Trump‘s “America First” approach to international trade.

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“This is fiendishly complex,” Freeland said. “It is quite arcane unless you actually spend your days making cars or car parts, but it is really important.”

READ MORE: Auto industry skeptical of Canadian TPP side deal on vehicles with Japan

The unions representing Canada’s auto-sector workers have been watching the NAFTA talks closely, and recently expressed their displeasure when Ottawa agreed certain rules of origin in the new Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.

The next round of NAFTA talks is scheduled to start early next week in Mexico City. According to Freeland, the last set of meetings, held in Montreal, marked the beginning of a fresh approach from Canada involving some “creative” tactics.

“I think just as the prime minister here in Canada is the leader of our NAFTA negotiating team, in the United States clearly President Trump is the one who is driving the U.S. agenda, and I think that is absolutely appropriate.” she added.

“What we tried to do last month in Montreal and we are continuing to do in the leadup to the Mexico round, is to find creative solutions, creative ways that we can defend and secure Canadian national interests, Canadian values, while also — by looking at things a little bit differently — help our American counterparts to achieve the things they’re looking for, too. That conversation really only began in Montreal.”

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Freeland said that in any trade talks, she believes in being polite, but “my spine is always stiff.”

Heading to India

The minister will be in India for much of this week, accompanying Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on an official visit to the world’s second-most-populous nation. Freeland, who will meet with her Indian counterpart while there, said the entire delegation will be focused on strengthening the relationship between Canada and India.

READ MORE: As Trudeau pitches ‘progressive’ trade, will India be open for business?

“We already have a meaningful economic relationship, it’s our seventh-largest trading partner. But I think that we can do a lot more, both in terms of the ways that Canada and India work together in the world and in strengthening our bilateral relationship.”

Watch the full interview with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland below.

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