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Canada Rejoins NAFTA Talks With Mexico And Washington


When President Trump announced a tentative trade deal with Mexico on Monday, the question that loomed over everything was - where's Canada? Could a revised NAFTA really exist without the neighbor to the north? Trump seemed to suggest so. He even gave the deal a name with just two countries. But Canada has now joined the talks, and U.S. and Canadian officials will be trying to bridge their differences this morning in Washington.

John Manley was Canada's minister of finance, also deputy prime minister, among his other posts. And he joins us from Ottawa this morning.

Mr. Manley, thanks...

JOHN MANLEY: Good morning.

GREENE: ...For taking the time. We appreciate you being here. So did Canada really think that the U.S. and Mexico were going to sign something alone, or did they see this as a bluff?

MANLEY: Well, I think what we understood was that the U.S. and Mexico had a number of issues that particularly pertained to the auto sector, which were unique to that part of the relationship - and that they would resolve those and that we would then resume the three-way conversation that had been ongoing now for quite some time.

GREENE: OK. So now the three-way conversation has begun. Canada's involved. What are the sticking points for the Canadian side?

MANLEY: Well, I think, from the Canadian point of view, there have been a number of things from the outset. One of those has been the continuation of a dispute settlement process - we call it Chapter 19 - that has existed in the NAFTA and existed in the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement before that. For Canadian interests, that's an essential. And I think that we're going to look closely at some of the other things that have been agreed to between the U.S. and Mexico and see just whether or not they can be made to work in the Canadian context. I think it's important to note that the Mexicans have been negotiating with the U.S. for over five weeks - a little unrealistic, perhaps, some might say, for Canada to sign on in, you know, four days.

GREENE: Yeah. Well, you bring up a really interesting point because there's this sort of deadline that has been set for a deal by Friday because the hope is to get something to Congress in the United States that could be finished off before there's a change in leadership in Mexico. Do you see that at all as possible? Are we going to reach a point where some tough decisions will be made about whether that can be extended?

MANLEY: Well, in the course of this whole unlikely negotiation, it's always been a good thing never to predict never.


MANLEY: So could politicians declare an agreement, in principle, by this Friday? Possibly. But of the roughly 30 chapters in NAFTA, about 10 remain completely outstanding. And it's not clear what positions the U.S. government is going to take on them, nor has any text for what's been agreed to been published. So for a notice to be given to Congress, it would be necessary, I believe, to have a legal text that's been agreed to and signed off by all parties. That seems like a big task to achieve by Friday.

GREENE: Can I just ask you, is there a chance here, if there is a deal, that there could be - I don't know - a calming down of tensions between the U.S. and Canada? I just think about some of the things that have been said. President Trump has called Prime Minister Trudeau weak and dishonest. Trudeau has said that Canada's not going to be pushed around by the United States. Is this an opportunity to settle some of that down a bit?

MANLEY: Well, it would certainly be welcome to reduce the rhetoric. You know, quite frankly, I've been around this beat for a long time. I don't remember the relationship between the president and the prime minister ever being this bad, even in some of the, you know, trying times we had, for example, during the Iraq War, when I was in office, and Canada took a different position. Prime ministers and presidents have always dealt with each other with great respect and then with respect for the relationship, notwithstanding whether they liked each other personally or what other differences there might be.

President Trump has set a different tone. And you know, I think, for Canadians, what we've learned over the last period of this presidency is that we should, you know, collectively, turn our hearing aids off and not pay too much attention to what he says but really try to keep our eyes focused on the fact that we have a long-standing, good relationship with the United States.

GREENE: John Manley, former minister of finance and foreign affairs. He's now president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada.

Thanks so much.

MANLEY: You're welcome. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.