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Canada's NAFTA charm offensive kicks into high gear

Canada is relying on an old strategy as it puts new effort into saving NAFTA. Ministers and MPs are heading to the U.S. to promote economic co-operation and trade, ahead of the next round of negotiations coming later this month.

Ministers, MPs visiting U.S. to promote trade amid tense talks later this month to renew agreement

Canadian cabinet members are heading to the U.S. as they continue their push in support of NAFTA. (Judi Bottoni/Associated Press)

The new year begins with Canada relying on an old strategy for saving the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Three cabinet members are in the United States this week to promote trade, and more are expected to head south as part of Ottawa's renewed charm offensive. 

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale is in Kentucky for a series of meetings with high level officials, including Gov. Matt Bevin.

The U.S. Ambassador to Canada, Kelly Craft, who is from Kentucky, will also be at the meetings.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is in California for two days to discuss clean technology and trade. 

And starting Friday, Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay will be in Tennessee for three days, attending the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual trade show. 

Two government sources tell CBC News that more ministers and MPs will be taking part in the charm offensive, amid the tense NAFTA renegotiation process.

The Liberal government launched the strategy about a year ago, with key members of the prime minister's inner circle meeting with hundreds of American politicians over the past 12 months. 

Canadian officials used the meetings to highlight the number of American jobs that depend on trade with Canada, and to lobby for wide support of NAFTA.

Tough rhetoric expected

The renewed effort comes as Canadian trade negotiators prepare for the sixth round of talks, which are set to begin on Jan. 23 in Montreal.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Mexico's Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal speak at the end of the fourth round of NAFTA talks in Washington in October. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

One source says tough rhetoric is expected to dominate the upcoming round of discussions.

There has been little to no movement on five so called "poison pills" proposed by the U.S.

Canada and Mexico have said they will not support U.S. demands on multiple sectors, including the auto industry, government procurement, and dispute resolution. 

Negotiators will be under added pressure in this round, since the political leaders overseeing the talks will also be in Montreal.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and her NAFTA counterparts did not meet in Mexico City, following the fifth round of discussions. The move was part of a larger effort to de-escalate tensions at the negotiating table.

Freeland had also met independently with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, as well as Mexico's Secretary of the Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal, in the weeks leading up to that round. 

The source remained hopeful that progress can be made in the upcoming talks, adding that Canada has no plans to change its negotiating strategy.

Trump to speak with farmers

Canadian officials said on Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to speak to delegates at the farming trade show that MacAuley is attending.

Donald Trump is scheduled to address the American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Convention in Tennessee on Monday. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

The president could be facing a difficult audience, as his threats to kill NAFTA have not been entirely welcomed by the U.S. farming community.

His own agricultural secretary, Sonny Perdue, has acknowledged the trade deal has been good for the U.S. farming industry, and farming lobbyists have been some of the loudest advocates to save the agreement.

But Canada and the U.S have different views on the dairy farming industry, which has made it a contentious point in negotiations so far. The Americans wants the sector brought into the free trade agreement and have asked Canada to eventually dismantle its supply management quota system. 

Farmers in the U.S. have long complained about Canadian dairy regulations. Canada has said it will protect supply management.

Canadian officials will be watching Trump's comments closely next week, as they continue to prepare for the next round of talks.

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