Canada's new minister tasked with procurement says negotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement are casting a shadow over the Liberal's decision to buy interim fighter jets to replace its aging CF-18 fleet.
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"I don't think we know exactly when we're going to make a decision on that. I think it'll have to be this fall and we're going to be mindful of all the other layers. This isn't a decision we can make in isolation without considering the consequences for trade negotiations and relationships with our own aerospace industry," Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough told CBC Radio's The House.
"NAFTA is a big trade consideration. We're in the thick of it. Sleeves are at present being rolled up and pencils sharpened on the NAFTA file. I don't think again that we can as a government look and make a decision on jets overall without considering kind of the geopolitical realities we're finding ourselves in."
Trade dispute creates contract uncertainty
Her comments pile further doubt on the Liberal's plan to make a stopgap buy until the government can finalize the purchase of 88 permanent replacements for the aging CF-18 fleet.
Canada opened negotiations for the sole-source purchase of 18 Super Hornet jet fighters earlier this year, but the program is on hold because of a trade dispute with Boeing.
The U.S. aerospace heavyweight has launched a commercial trade complaint against Montreal-based Bombardier putting the military contract into limbo.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has called the complaint "groundless."
"The U.S. has its own process and they're going through the process," she said in June. "We absolutely reject this complaint. We think it is absolutely groundless."
The Liberals had intended to purchase 18 Super Hornet fighters — at a potential total program cost of between $5 billion and $7 billion .
Round two of the NAFTA negotiations got underway on Friday in Mexico. On Sunday, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that both Canada and Mexico are "being very difficult."
Both the U.S. and Mexico have said they would like to have a deal by the end of the year due to upcoming elections in those countries.
Qualtrough, who represents the British Columbia riding of Delta, took over the file on Monday after former minister Judy Foote announced her resignation from the federal cabinet last week.