Before Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland travelled to Washington last Tuesday as part of ongoing NAFTA negotiations, she received a surprise in her constituency office.
“Red and white flowers, and they were signed from a ‘devout Canadian,'” she told The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson.
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The sender attached a card, which urged Freeland and her team to stand strong in trade negotiations with the U.S.
“To me, that was very meaningful,” she said.
It’s one of the many gestures that’s convinced her that Canadians “want a good deal, not just any deal.”
The U.S., Canada and Mexico have been participating in renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for over 13 months now. In recent weeks, the U.S. and Mexico announced a preliminary agreement, which put the pressure on Canada to sign on.
Freeland has been back and forth to Washington over the past two weeks and maintains that while a deal that’s beneficial for all three countries is “absolutely possible,” she adds that “it’s going to take flexibility on all sides.”
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U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to scrap NAFTA as recently as this past week and told a cheering crowd during a campaign rally that NAFTA had been replaced with a “beautiful” agreement called the “U.S.-Mexico Trade Deal.”
While the minister remained tight-lipped on specific details of the ongoing negotiations as part of an agreement between her and her U.S. counterpart, Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, she stated that the U.S. values its trade relationship with Canada and that losing these ties would deal them an economic blow as well.
“Trade, by definition, is not a one-way street. Of course, trade with the United States is important to Canada. Canada is important to the U.S., too. We are the largest market for the United States. Larger than China, Japan and the U.K. combined,” she told Global News.
She would not comment on the state of contentious issues, such as Canada’s supply management system for dairy and poultry products or the Chapter 19 dispute resolution clause. She did, however, state that it was personally important to her to achieve a deal that’s good for Canadian farmers in addition to families and workers.
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Freeland notes that, having grown up in Peace River, Alta., looking out for the interests of rural Canada is particularly important to her.
“I love rural Canada. I love Canadian farms, and that is definitely something that we have very much in mind,” she told Global News.
While she stayed quiet on several issues, Freeland did reference a comment made by Trump’s director of the National Economic Council, Larry Kudlow.
On Friday, Kudlow told Fox Business Network that “the word that continues to block the deal is M-I-L-K.”
Freeland retorted that Kudlow “is not at the negotiating table.”
Freeland did state that, as part of the negotiations, she and her team are making specific efforts to engage with U.S. Congress members, as they’ll play a significant role in whether or not a deal is accepted.
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“When I speak to a congressman or woman or senator, I find they are extremely well informed about the needs of their district or their state, and it’s at that more granular level that people in the United States really do appreciate the importance of their trade with Canada,” she said.
When it comes to a deadline, however, Freeland had few answers. Whether or not the U.S. and Canada can present a unified text to Congress by the Oct. 1 deadline is “about the U.S. legislative process,” she said.