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Politics No urgency to ratify new trade deal with U.S. and Mexico, says Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland attends a news conference in Dinard, France, April 5, 2019.

Stephane Mahe/Reuters

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Canada is in no rush to ratify the new trade deal with Mexico and the United States, given that North American free trade under the existing NAFTA deal remains in place.

Speaking with reporters following a cabinet meeting, Ms. Freeland said ratifying the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade through legislation is not as urgent as past government bills to ratify Canada’s recent trade deals with the European Union and Pacific Rim countries.

“In those instances, those were new agreements and Canadians were able to enjoy the benefits only upon ratification. NAFTA is an entirely different situation. We as Canadians are enjoying the benefits of NAFTA every day,” she said. “The Canadian objective from the outset has been to maintain Canada’s privileged access to the U.S. market, which is so valuable to all Canadians. Of course, we have been willing to consider modernizations [and] improvements but our core objective has always been to keep that access in place. That is something we have now. That is something we have achieved and that’s really our core concern.”

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Further, Ms. Freeland said Canada is considering whether to update its retaliatory tariffs that are currently in force in protest of U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum.

The U.S. tariffs, which Washington imposed under the premise of national security, were widely viewed as a pressure tactic during last year’s trade negotiations. The fact that the American tariffs remain in place even after the three countries reached a deal last October to replace the North American free-trade agreement remains a major irritant for Canada and Mexico.

“We are certainly constantly looking at ways to refresh the retaliation list and this is standard practice in any sort of trade dispute. When you have a retaliation in place it is standard and appropriate to be looking at whether you have the right items included in that list,” Ms. Freeland said.

“What we seek is a balance where we cause the minimum difficulties here in Canada. We don’t want to hurt Canadians. We want to limit that as much as possible and, at the same time, we want our list to have the greatest possible impact in the U.S. We are looking at, as we always do, ways we can refresh the retaliation list to have an even greater impact," she said.

In the U.S. Congress, House Democrats have suggested they could use their majority in the House of Representatives to reopen the deal in order to insert tougher measures related to labour, the environment and pharmaceutical patent protections.

Ms. Freeland said that while she shares many of the labour-related concerns that are being raised by Democrats, her message is that these issues can best be resolved through stronger domestic labour laws in Mexico.

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