Canada is not being sidelined in the NAFTA negotiations, and will rejoin the talks as soon as the U.S. and Mexico resolve their bilateral issues, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Friday.
Two-way talks between the U.S. and Mexico are well into their fifth week, but Freeland says she’s encouraged by the signals emanating from the bilateral meetings.
“NAFTA is overall a trilateral agreement, but inside that trilateral agreement, there are bilateral trading relationships,” Freeland told reporters after meeting with steel workers in Richmond, B.C. “The U.S.-Mexican issues inside NAFTA are really complicated and it makes a lot of sense — and we welcome the fact — that the U.S. and Mexico are rolling up their sleeves and devoting a lot of time to resolving those issues.”
WATCH: Freeland says Mexico-U.S. NAFTA negotiations is only on bilateral issues
Freeland dismissed concerns that the U.S. and Mexico could agree on NAFTA terms on their own and strong-arm Canada into accepting, saying that it was made clear in Canada’s conversations with the U.S. and Mexico that “all three countries today are committed to modernizing and updating what is a trilateral agreement.”
She declined to offer a timeline for Canada rejoining the talks, however, saying it “depends on how quickly the U.S. and Mexico are able to resolve those bilateral issues.”
WATCH: One-on-one with Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland
The prospect of a quick deal between Mexico and the United States retreated on Friday as disagreements over energy flared up and conflict over autos persisted.
Since talks resumed last month, U.S. and Mexican negotiators have focused on reaching common ground but in the past few days differing views on energy policy between the outgoing and incoming Mexican administrations have put up a fresh hurdle.
Mexico’s Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo, who on Wednesday said a bilateral breakthrough could be just “hours” away, said he and his team would stay in Washington over the weekend to keep negotiating with U.S. officials.
Asked if talks had made headway on a U.S. “sunset” proposal that could terminate NAFTA after five years, Guajardo said it was an issue that would be dealt with once Canada came back.
WATCH: Trump says negotiating with Mexico on NAFTA, doesn’t mention Canada
Trump suggested last week that Canada had been deliberately frozen out of the NAFTA talks, saying, “Their tariffs are too high, their barriers are too strong, so we’re not even talking to them right now.”
But Freeland struck a more optimistic tone on Friday, stating that the Trudeau government is confident that the talks can lead to a “win-win-win outcome.”
— With files from Reuters