The United States is stepping up pressure on Canada to open its protected dairy and poultry sectors as the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations near a critical year-end deadline.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said Thursday that it's time for Canada to make "bold and creative" concessions in the talks, including in the area of agriculture.
"We're all at a moment," Ms. Pritzker said in an interview. "The easy work is done.… Now it's time to get over the finish line."
Ms. Pritzker said the goal of creating a "high standards global free trade agreement" outweighs any reluctance of countries to put their best offers on the table.
"I understand that at the end of a negotiation everybody has their game face on, but the reality is that this is important for all of us to get done," said Ms. Pritzker, a Chicago billionaire and Democratic fundraiser who helped U.S. President Barack Obama win the White House.
Ms. Pritzker said she had a "fulsome conversation" about the 12-country TPP deal with Prime Minister Stephen Harper during a one-day visit to Ottawa. She also met Trade Minister Ed Fast, Industry Minister James Moore and was slated to take in Thursday night's Chicago Blackhawks-Ottawa Senators hockey game with U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman, another former Obama fundraiser from Chicago.
"As you get to the end game of a negotiation … everyone has to jump at once. Everybody has to understand the deal they're buying into."
The 12 TPP countries have been working toward a year-end deadline to get a final deal. But talks have bogged down amid resistance by Japan, the newest addition to the negotiating group, to open its agriculture and automotive sectors in closed-door bargaining with the United States.
Ms. Pritzker, a member of the family that founded the Hyatt Hotels chain, also dismissed Canadian complaints about a proliferation of new Buy American government purchasing rules, which limit foreign companies from bidding on billions of dollars of federal purchases.
"Buy America is a small amount of procurement," she said. "It's not as if it's a predominant situation."
And she pointedly called out Canada for protecting key sectors of its own.
"Every country has impediments to free trade," she said. "Canada has its own, whether it's financial services or the legal system, or certain parts of the hydro power system. So we can all point fingers at each other if we want to. What I'm trying to work on here this week is: 'What can we do to strengthen the bilateral relationship.'"
Mr. Fast and other Canadian officials have expressed growing frustration that Buy American rules are disrupting North American supply chains and threatening jobs and investment in both countries. And it's occurring as they negotiate a TPP deal that would ease restrictions.
Last week, Mr. Fast accused the U.S. of "persistent efforts to find ways of impeding trade between our two nations."
Ms. Pitzker said that 98 per cent of Canada-U.S. trade is working "really, really, really well."
"Everybody has got work to do," she added.
"Let's step back and look at the larger relationship. Think of us as close friends or almost like family. There is always going to be an issue that is a thorn in someone's side."
Ms. Pritzker also delivered a speech to the Ottawa chapter of the American Chamber of Commerce, in which she said the TPP presents an opportunity to "upgrade" the North American free trade agreement.
"This is the opportunity for all of us to step up and create a free trade agreement that addresses IP protection, market access for agriculture and addresses state owned enterprises," she said. "This is a moment in time."