Freeland returns to Washington as NAFTA, tariff tensions mount
Stalled negotiations, tariff threats to be focus of minister's two days of meetings
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.
Freeland's primary objective is to rekindle NAFTA negotiations, which stalled after high-level talks broke off earlier this month.
- NAFTA's big sticking point: significant gaps remain U.S., Mexico on autos
- 'Just give us the rules': Canadian businesses anxiously await NAFTA outcome
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.
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."
Freeland will be meeting with her American counterpart, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, at least once during her two-day visit.
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.