Negotiations to rewrite NAFTA started 13 months ago but as the clock ticks down to the latest target deadline, the Americans are testing the Canadian position.
A source tells Global News any deal could still take a while to reach because the American negotiators won’t reveal their bottom line until they are sure whether the one laid out by Canadian negotiators is for real.
American negotiators have been putting pressure on the Canadian limits during these latest talks.
The bottom line, however, is real, the source said.
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In recent days, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has doubled down on the necessity of key measures like a dispute resolution mechanism and cultural exemption protections in the free trade agreement, even pointing the finger at U.S. President Donald Trump as someone who “doesn’t always play by the rules” to make his point.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland arrived in Washington for what she described as “intense” talks on Wednesday and remains there now.
She was cautious in saying whether she would stay for the weekend if talks went well over Thursday and Friday and while Freeland noted there was “good faith” at the negotiating table, she did not offer much in terms of a clearer picture of whether the two sides are coming closer together.
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Talks went late into the night on Thursday, ending for the day with a 20-minute meeting between Freeland and Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative.
Discussions are stuck on several thorny issues, including whether to allow greater American access to the Canadian dairy market.
Trump, meanwhile, has been threatening to leave Canada out of the agreement he recently reached with Mexico if the countries can’t come to an agreement.
Negotiators have repeatedly blown past deadlines set to reach a deal.
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The latest one before them is to try to have an agreement by the end of the month.
Doing so would allow Trump to present the deal to the U.S. Congress by Oct. 1, which needs to vote on it before any agreement can be accepted.
But the American midterm elections are scheduled for November, which could change the makeup of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Both that chamber and the Senate are currently controlled by Republicans.
If negotiators blow past the deadline and the Democrats take control of the House of Representatives in November though, it would mean a chamber unfriendly to many of Trump’s agenda items would be the ones casting the deciding votes on the trade agreement.
Senior Democrats have already threatened to block any deal that doesn’t include Canada.
With files from Global News’ Ottawa Bureau Chief Mercedes Stephenson.