High level NAFTA preparation meetings set for Ottawa on Wednesday

Canada's ambassador to Washington will be spending Wednesday in Ottawa for a series of high level NAFTA preparation meetings. David MacNaughton is expected to sit down with members of the Prime Minister's Office and trade officials ahead of what could be a busy month of trade talks.

Canadian officials to discuss positions, strategy in anticipation of formal talks resuming with U.S., Mexico

Canada's Ambassador to the United States David MacNaughton will be in Ottawa on Wednesday for NAFTA meetings with Canadian officials. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Canada's ambassador to Washington will be in Ottawa Wednesday for a series of high level discussions with Canadian officials to prepare for the resumption of NAFTA negotiations.

David MacNaughton is expected to sit down with members of the Prime Minister's Office — including Chief of Staff Katie Telford — and trade officials to discuss strategy and positions, according to a senior source with direct knowledge of the situation.

The source tells CBC News the meetings are meant to make certain everyone is prepared and on the same page when formal talks with the U.S. and Mexico resume.

Dates for trilateral meetings have not yet been set, but face-to-face-to-face discussions could start up as early as next week.

Wednesday's meeting is expected to remain at the officials' level, so Foreign Affairs Minster Chrystia Freeland will not be attending.

The source says Canada must be prepared for a fast-moving endgame in the trade talks if the U.S. and Mexico try to make good on pledges to see significant progress on a renegotiated NAFTA by Labour Day.

Mexico's Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, left, Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, center, and Mexico's Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo pose for a photo during a joint news conference about ongoing renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in Mexico City, Wednesday, July 25, 2018. (Marco Ugarte/Associated Press)

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, the man overseeing American negotiations, told a Senate subcommittee last month that getting a tentative agreement down by the end of August is not "unreasonable ... if everybody wants to get it done."

However, that mild sense of optimism is being met with a healthy dose of skepticism. Over the past year of NAFTA talks, officials have blown past every self-imposed deadline along the way.

Still, the Canadian delegation is gearing up for a busy few weeks.

Auto talks ongoing

Trilateral NAFTA meetings have been on hold since May, when formal talks were paused for the Mexican federal election.

Since then, the U.S. and Mexico have held a series of bilateral meetings, focusing on rules for the auto sector. 

Canada has not been at the table for those talks, and trade officials here have been at pains to downplay any suggestion that Canada is being frozen out of the negotiation process.

President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminium from both Canada and Mexico since NAFTA talks paused for the Mexican federal election. (Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)

Tensions at the table have changed dramatically in the months since talks went on hold.

U.S. President Donald Trump followed through on his threat to impose steel and aluminum tariffs on his NAFTA trading partners, while both Canada and Mexico retaliated with reciprocal tariffs of their own.

And an investigation continues into whether the U.S. should impose additional tariffs on imported vehicles and auto parts. Industry leaders from all three countries have said such a move would have a devastating impact on the North American auto industry.


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.