It might be too early to say where the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement will lead, but the foreign ministers of Canada and Mexico already agree they don't want to sacrifice one relationship for another.
Chrystia Freeland and her Mexican colleague were asked Tuesday to comment on recent suggestions that in an effort to save its trading relationship with the United States, Canada might "throw Mexico under the bus."
"I've always been clear, and the prime minister has always been clear, about the importance of our relationship with Mexico," Freeland said, adding that strong ties and the benefits of making them even stronger have been the focus of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government since taking office.
Too much has been made of comments taken out of context, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray added, saying it would be "a significant mistake" to characterize the state of the bilateral relationship between Canada and Mexico "as something that is not simply great."
The foreign ministers appeared together for a panel discussion at a Toronto event called "New Strategies for a New North America," convened by the Canadian Council for the Americas.
Their countries have had contrasting starts with Donald Trump's administration.
Trudeau had a conflict-free first visit to Washington last week. Several ministers have taken similarly positive, early steps with their counterparts.
But U.S. talks with Mexico were abruptly cancelled over ongoing threats from the new U.S. president to build a wall along Mexico's border to crack down on immigration — and make Mexicans pay for it, although it's unclear how.
Videgaray told the Toronto audience that he and his officials continue to work constructively with Washington, despite this heated war of words.
Canadians have been assured that Trump's dissatisfaction with NAFTA was aimed at Mexico, not its northern partner.
Would Canada be tempted to cut ties with Mexico to save its own economic interests?
First, nothing's happening soon, Freeland reminded her Toronto audience — especially since Trump's trade negotiator hasn't even been confirmed yet and the U.S. is required to hold a 90-day consultation period before talks begin.
"We all collectively have to be careful not to get ahead of ourselves," she said.
But when talks do begin, "NAFTA is a three-country agreement," Freeland said. "Were there to be any new negotiations, those would be three-way negotiations."
Freeland's remarks appear to contrast with Trump's stated intentions to deal with countries one at a time to get the best deal for America.
Videgaray said he understood if Canada stayed away from some of his country's bilateral issues with the U.S. Each country will naturally have its own agenda, he said.
Freeland said recent examples of bilateral co-operation between Canada and Mexico — such as Canada's lifting of its visa requirements, which she said was already positive for tourism and other businesses, and Mexico's full reopening of its borders to Canadian beef — were "really encouraging signs."
NAFTA not to blame for job losses
In an earlier speech to the same audience, Mexico's economy minister, Ildefonso Guajardo, talked about the way the two countries co-operated during the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations to make sure the U.S. and Japan did not rewrite regional content rules for the automotive sector in a way that was harmful to the U.S.'s NAFTA partners.
Guajardo said Trump's rhetoric about the trade deal being responsible for the loss of manufacturing jobs in "rust belt" states does not hold.
The job losses, the Mexican minister said, were in businesses that weren't well-integrated into North American supply chains. Businesses engaged in north-south regional trade were actually growing, he said.
Former prime minister Brian Mulroney also spoke at the Toronto event and said sacrificing Canada's relationship with Mexico to please the Americans would be foolish.
"This under the bus stuff is for losers, not for winners," he said. "And Canada is a winner."
"Sometimes it will be bilateral, and sometimes it will be trilateral," he said of discussions around how to improve the agreement first negotiated when he was in office. "I think at the end of the day, we end up with an updated and modernized NAFTA."
'Donald is somewhat unorthodox'
In an interview with CBC News Network's Power & Politics later Tuesday, Mulroney said standing by Mexico would show strength.
"Throwing friends and neighbours and allies under the bus is a position for a weak leader," he told host Rosemary Barton. "This is not the Canadian tradition."
If the Americans decide not to do any more multilateral or trilateral agreements, "that would be a new reality," Mulroney said, but "we're not there yet."
"Donald is somewhat unorthodox as a president," Mulroney told the Toronto audience about Trump, a man he says he knows from his social circles in New York and Palm Beach, Fla. "That doesn't mean that he can't surprise on the upside, and I think that's what he's going to do."
"We're going to come out of this in one piece," he said. "If I had to bet a dollar, I'd bet on that right now."
Mulroney said he knew Trudeau's government was doing well so far with the new U.S. administration, because he spoke directly with Trump Saturday evening during a charity fundraiser at the Florida resort the president owns.
"[Trump] was engaged with [Trudeau] personally and spent a lot of time with him and enjoyed his company a great deal," Mulroney told Barton.