Liberals to step up NAFTA charm offensive in Washington come September

The government's efforts to win over Washington will intensify this September, right after NAFTA renegotiations begin. A government source tells CBC News that ministers, parliamentary secretaries and MPs will be involved in a push to engage with politicians across the border.

Government source says outreach to U.S. politicians to resume after start of renegotiations

President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participate in a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Feb. 13. NAFTA renegotiations will begin Aug. 16. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

While some Canadians will be getting their kids ready to head back to school in September, it will be back to Washington for key members of the prime minister's inner circle. 

A government source, speaking on background, told CBC News that Ottawa will intensify its charm offensive with the U.S. this fall in an effort to protect Canadian interests.

The push is set to start a couple of weeks after NAFTA renegotiations formally begin. Canada, the U.S. and Mexico will sit down for a first round of talks in Washington starting Aug. 16.

The heightened cross-border engagement is part of a broader plan around the NAFTA talks.

On Wednesday, the government announced a newly created advisory council on NAFTA, which includes former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose, former Conservative cabinet minister James Moore, NDP strategist Brian Topp and industry and First Nations representatives. The government also appointed trade expert Kirsten Hillman as deputy ambassador to the United States.

The source said engagement levels will be similar to what took place in February and March during President Donald Trump's first months in office.

During that time, a parade of Canadian officials, including cabinet ministers, parliamentary secretaries, MPs, premiers and mayors, met with their U.S. counterparts. Most used their visits to make the case as to why Americans should continue free trade with Canada. 

The Trudeau government has set a goal for Canadian politicians to meet with every single member of Congress and every governor, as well as every relevant staffer in the White House. 

Trudeau and Trump speak at the G20 summit in Hamburg on July 8. The NAFTA renegotiations are the government's top priority, a source says. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Since Trump's inauguration, the federal government says, Canadian officials have made contact with more than 300 American politicians, through a series of more than 175 meetings.

Freeland to outline Canada's goals

The government source described NAFTA renegotiations as the most pressing issue Ottawa is dealing with at the moment.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to be involved in preparations in the two weeks before talks begin, but it is unclear what his role will be.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland will reveal Canada's broad negotiation goals when she testifies before the parliamentary committee on trade on Aug. 14. 

While Freeland will not release a detailed list of objectives, as U.S. officials were required to do, she is expected to defend Canada's supply management system for dairy and NAFTA's trade dispute resolution mechanisms.

About the Author

Katie Simpson is a senior reporter in the Parliamentary Bureau of CBC News. Prior to joining the CBC, she spent nearly a decade in Toronto covering local and provincial issues.


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