Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland will return to Washington this week to take another run at closing a NAFTA deal with the Trump administration, as negotiators try to reach agreements on issues ranging from a dispute resolution mechanism to Canada’s protected dairy market.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, meanwhile, will make his first trip to the U.S. capital on Wednesday to push Canada’s negotiating team to strike a deal.
Canadian and U.S. officials were in talks over the weekend and on Monday in a bid to find compromises that Ms. Freeland and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer can sign off on when they next sit down.
Chief Canadian negotiator Steve Verheul was in Ottawa on Monday, but other members of this country’s negotiating team were in Washington, a source familiar with the talks said. Both Mr. Verheul and Canadian Ambassador David MacNaughton have been heavily involved in the behind-the-scenes push for a deal, another source said.
Ms. Freeland said Monday that she planned to return to the United States soon.
“I have been in touch today with Ambassador Lighthizer and his team, and we agreed that we would continue to talk in Washington later this week,” she said.
The major stumbling blocks are the Chapter 19 dispute-resolution mechanism, U.S. demands to sell more dairy to Canada and Ottawa’s battle to preserve protections for Canadian cultural industries, said one person briefed on the talks. Other matters include intellectual property protections, government contracting and the amount of foreign merchandise Canadians can buy online without paying import duties.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday championed the bilateral deal Mr. Lighthizer reached last month with Mexico as “very pro-jobs, very pro-everything,” adding he was hopeful of reaching an accord with Canada.
“We’ll see what happens with Canada. We’ve told them what we have to have, and we’ll see how that goes. I’m sure it will go fine,” he said at the White House.
Mr. Ford and his Economic Development Minister, Jim Wilson, will meet in Washington Wednesday with Mr. MacNaughton and other members of the Canadian negotiating team.
On Monday, Mr. Wilson took aim at Ottawa’s assertion that it would refuse to sign off on an overhauled North American free-trade agreement if it can’t get the right deal.
“We want to be pro-active and make sure that the federal government really does understand. Because you’re all hearing the rumours that we are hearing, that maybe they don’t want a deal. So we’re going down there to say that ‘You bloody well need to get a deal,’” he told reporters at Queen’s Park. “There are a million jobs directly and millions more indirectly dependent on a deal with NAFTA. They’re going to know it on Wednesday.”
Ms. Freeland said she welcomed Mr. Ford diving into the file.
“I am an Ontario MP. I am always happy to speak to the government of Ontario about where these negotiations are going and to hear their thoughts and ideas,” she said.
Politicians across Canada’s political spectrum have largely tried to present a united front in NAFTA talks, but that solidarity has frayed in recent days, with some Tories have accusing the Trudeau government of mishandling the negotiations by being too obstinate with Mr. Trump.
Federal Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen said Monday that Mr. Trudeau should not have pushed to include progressive equity measures in the deal.
“What the Prime Minister had done in these trade negotiations is tick people off,” she said. “We certainly wouldn’t have gone in and lectured on things like gender rights and the environment.”
Daniel Ujczo, an Ohio trade lawyer who works with steel and auto companies dependent on NAFTA, said the negotiations are not deadlocked.
“I don’t think the talks are stalled right now. The technical work is being done as we speak,” said Mr. Ujczo, of the firm Dickinson Wright. “We’re all in standby mode, waiting to see what the technical meetings are coming up with.”
With a report from Justin Giovannetti