Freeland returns to Washington as NAFTA, tariff tensions mount

Canada's foreign affairs minister will attempt to tackle a trifecta of trade troubles as she heads to Washington for a two day visit. Chrystia Freeland is trying to rekindle NAFTA negotiations, while securing exemptions for Canada from looming U.S. tariffs.

Stalled negotiations, tariff threats to be focus of minister's two days of meetings

Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland speaks with media in Washington, D.C. in April, ahead of high level NAFTA negotiations. (Alex Panetta/Canadian Press)

Canada's foreign affairs minister is heading out of town for what could turn out to be a pivotal trade mission to Washington.

When Chrystia Freeland arrives in D.C. today, she will attempt to tackle a trifecta of trade troubles threatening the Canada-U.S. relationship.

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Freeland's primary objective is to rekindle NAFTA negotiations, which stalled after high-level talks broke off earlier this month. 

But she also will attempt to secure for Canada a permanent exemption from U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum set to kick in on June 1.

In addition to both of those challenges, she'll also try to make the case for Canada being made permanently exempt from any new American tariffs on the auto sector.

"It's going to be important for us to stay very focused," Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, told CBC News.

"What we are seeing ... is the strategy on the part of the White House, of simply piling more things onto the negotiating table."

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to impose steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico unless Washington gets what it wants in NAFTA negotiations.

President Donald Trump has threatened to use tariffs on aluminium and steel to force Canada and Mexico to accept American demands at the NAFTA negotiating table. (Andrew Harnik/Canadian Press)

Canada is refusing to link tariffs to NAFTA talks and is demanding blanket exemptions. 

The Americans threw a new threat into the mix last week, announcing the Trump administration is also considering 25 per cent tariffs on imported vehicles and auto parts.

The U.S. Department of Commerce has launched an investigation into whether job losses in the auto sector pose a threat to American national security interests that calls for tariffs.

"The idea that Canada and Canadian cars could pose any kind of security threat to the United States is frankly absurd," Freeland said during Monday's question period in the House of Commons.

Beatty said Freeland needs to use her meetings in Washington to make it clear that actions against Canadian steel, aluminum or automobiles would be "abusive and totally unjustified."

No Mexico

Freeland will be meeting with her American counterpart, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, at least once during her two-day visit.

Mexico's Secretary of the Economy Ildefonso Guajardo. left, is not expected to attend this week's high level NAFTA talks in Washington. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Her office is not sharing more details yet about who else she'll be sitting down with.

A spokesman for Mexican Secretary of the Economy Ildefonso Guajardo said he is not expected to be a part of these high-level talks.

Guajardo is in Paris until Thursday for meetings at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. 

Beatty said that's a pretty strong signal that "we likely are not going to see a conclusion to NAFTA negotiations imminently."

U.S. lawmakers had said that if a pact was signed by all three countries by the end of May, there was a chance it could be passed by Congress before the end of the year.

All signs now suggest that is not possible — which means the negotiations will drag into 2019. 


Katie Simpson is a foreign correspondent with CBC News based in Washington. Prior to joining the team in D.C. she spent six years covering Parliament Hill in Ottawa and nearly a decade covering local and provincial issues in Toronto.


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