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Carr, Lighthizer take a pass on coming G20 trade ministers' meeting in Argentina

Jim Carr arrives at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on July 18, 2018. The new International Trade Diversification Minister is taking a pass on a meeting of his G20 counterparts in Argentina on Friday.

PATRICK DOYLE/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canada’s new International Trade Diversification Minister is taking a pass on a meeting of his G20 counterparts in Argentina on Friday.

Jim Carr was recently shuffled into the portfolio with the main purpose of diversifying Canada’s economic relations with countries other than the United States, its largest trading partner.

The Group of 20 includes China, India and Brazil – countries with which Canada is keen to expand economic ties.

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Mr. Carr’s spokesman says the minister will attend an event in his home province of Manitoba on Friday and that Canada will be represented at the G20 meeting by Canada’s deputy minister for international trade.

Mr. Carr will be in Winnipeg to announce the start of repairs of the railway line that runs to Churchill, Man. Sections of the track were washed out during a May, 2017, flood that wiped out the only land link to the town on Hudson Bay.

Mr. Carr’s absence from Friday’s G20 gathering does not diminish Canada’s commitment to the group or the international trading system, spokesman Joe Pickerill said.

"We absolutely believe in the rules-based system, the international trading order on which we’ve depended for our prosperity for decades,” Mr. Pickerill said.

He pointed to the fact Mr. Carr will host a small group of trade ministers, many of whom are G20 members, next month in Ottawa to discuss much needed reforms to the World Trade Organization.

The agenda is still being crafted, but government officials said ministers from Australia, Brazil, Chile, Japan, Kenya, South Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Switzerland and the European Union have been invited.

Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. Trade Representative, will also be absent from the gathering of G20 trade ministers on Friday.

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That has fuelled speculation that Mr. Lighthizer might be holding his schedule open for a return visit to Washington by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, his political counterpart in the continuing renegotiation of the North American free-trade agreement.

Canadian and U.S. negotiators continued their talks on Thursday after Ms. Freeland’s latest visit to Washington on Tuesday.

Ms. Freeland briefed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the state of the NAFTA talks at the Liberal caucus retreat in Saskatoon on Wednesday.

Afterward, she said lead negotiator Steve Verheul and David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, would return to Washington to resume negotiations.

The G20 leaders’ summit is set for later this fall in Buenos Aires.

A leading international-affairs analyst said it is not necessarily a bad thing Mr. Carr and Mr. Lighthizer decided to skip Friday’s G20 ministerial meeting.

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The G20’s relevance and importance have been fading over time since its creation a decade ago to deal with the Great Recession of 2008-09, said Fen Hampson, a global-policy expert with the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont.

"It underscores the diminishing relevance of the G20 as an institution,” he said.

Mr. Trudeau said on Thursday the government planned to pass legislation this fall allowing Canada to join the rebooted Trans-Pacific Partnership that includes 10 other Pacific Rim countries.

U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew his country from the original TPP in January, 2017.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says resumed NAFTA talks with the United States on Sept. 11, 2018, were 'cordial' and 'constructive.' Ms. Freeland says she remains focused on efforts to save the trade deal, which have dragged on for 13 months. The Canadian Press
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