To say that there have been some mixed signals on the status of the NAFTA negotiations over the past week would be an understatement.
On Wednesday, U.S. chief negotiator Robert Lighthizer suggested that the parties were heading for a deal sooner rather than later. But the same day, Canadian envoy Steve Verheul said that’s not quite true, telling reporters that there’s still lots of work ahead.
WATCH: ‘Significant’ work to be done on ‘core issues’ says Canadian negotiator
So, which is it? According to Andrew Leslie, the parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, it’s both.
“Both points of view are very legitimate,” said Leslie in an interview with Global’s Eric Sorensen.
“At the strategic level, Mr. Lighthizer has quite correctly identified the fact that a whole bunch of very interesting ideas have been put on the table in the very recent past by our American colleagues and there’s momentum.”
But, he cautioned, “we’re not by any stretch out of the woods” as the Mexican presidential election kicks off and the American midterms loom this fall. The potential political shifts in both countries reportedly have negotiators in the U.S. scrambling to get a NAFTA deal done. At the same time, the U.S. is in the process of approving President Donald Trump‘s new pick for Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.
“We’ve told our American and our Mexican colleagues (that) our teams are on standby to go to Washington and to work 24/7 as required to get this across the finish line,” Leslie said.
One of the biggest sticking points for weeks has been rules of origin in the automotive industry. Leslie said there are teams in Washington right now working on that difficult file, and as a result, he won’t comment further.
“We don’t want to negotiate in public, not when we’re so close … We’re not across the finishing line yet for automobiles.”
WATCH: Fresh optimism about NAFTA negotiations
Asked if Canada is trying to slow the pace of negotiations in response to the various scandals swirling around Trump and the possibility that his presidency could somehow be cut short, Leslie said that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“We are absolutely categorically not ragging the puck,” he told Sorensen.
“We are ready to work constructively, to put good ideas on the table. And to listen to their increasingly good ideas or ideas that are moving more towards centre on certain specific issues.”
The next round of talks was expected to happen this week in Washington, but no formal invitations had been sent out as of Friday. For now, Leslie said, Canada will simply continue to push for a renewal of the trade pact with anyone in the U.S. who will listen.
“In these complex negotiations, nothing counts until it’s over,” he said. “Until everyone signs.”
— Watch the full interview with Parliamentary Secretary Andrew Leslie above
© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.