Freeland postpones UN speech amid NAFTA talks and looming deadline

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland's speech to the UN General Assembly, planned for Saturday, will now take place Monday due to NAFTA talks, and officials say there is a strong possibility someone else might have to deliver the remarks on Canada's behalf.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is also directly involved in negotiation push, sources say

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland addresses reporters as she arrives at the Office of the United States Trade Representative in Washington on Sept. 11. Her office said Saturday she has postponed her UN speech until Monday, when someone else may speak in her place. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland's speech to the UN General Assembly in New York City, planned for Saturday, will now take place Monday due to continuing NAFTA talks, and officials say there is a strong possibility someone else might have to deliver the remarks on Canada's behalf.

Freeland, who is in the throes of a last-stage effort to secure a North American free trade deal, traded her time slot on the UN rostrum, according to officials in the minister's office.

Officials told CBC News that the postponement of her speech was due to the trade negotiations, which sources say intensified this week in the face of Monday's U.S. congressional deadline. 

Freeland's remarks to the UN would be part of Canada's pitch for a place at the top table in the organization. Two Security Council seats are up for grabs, in a three-way race between Canada, Ireland and Norway. 

But while Canada vies for a seat, there's increasing trade pressure.

Mexico's secretary of the economy said a trilateral deal could be possible this weekend.

Mexico's President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been pushing for a new trilateral trade deal between Mexico, Canada and the U.S. (Carlos Jasso/Reuters)

As of Saturday, the minister was still in Canada. Sources with direct knowledge of the talks told CBC News that David MacNaughton, Canada's ambassador to the U.S., had flown to Ottawa to be part of the concentrated Canadian effort. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is also directly involved in the effort, sources say, and talks are continuing late on Saturday.

The disputes over dairy and Chapter 19 provisions remain unresolved, sources say. That chapter allows companies that feel their products have been unfairly hit by anti-dumping or countervailing duties to request arbitration. 

The text of the existing U.S.-Mexico deal is expected to be published by Sunday, and there have been fears that Congress would be willing to press ahead with the bilateral agreement if Canada can't get a deal done.

Mexico agrees to intervene, then walks back

Mexico's new president-elect, however, said in an interview Friday that he has agreed to push the American side to make a deal with Canada.

President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked him during a Thursday phone call "to intervene and call on the U.S. government to reach an agreement" with Canada on the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"We agreed to that," Lopez Obrador told reporters in Mexico City. The president-elect also said he would insist on a trilateral pact.

However, later Friday evening, Lopez Obrador's Senate leader, Ricardo Monreal, said Mexico wouldn't walk away from a bilateral agreement. 

Trudeau has been directly involved with this weekend's trade talks, a government source said. (Amr Alfiky/Reuters)

"The ideal is a trilateral deal, but we're prepared for the possible need of a bilateral," he told Bloomberg News.

According to a readout of the call from the Prime Minister's Office, the two men "agreed to work closely together to further strengthen the dynamic partnership between Canada and Mexico," and "discussed NAFTA and the mutually beneficial economic and trading relationship between our two countries."

But Lopez Obrador, who takes office on Dec. 1, said the NAFTA language between Washington and Mexico City was now final.

Sources familiar with the talks say Freeland took part in a lengthy conference call Friday night with negotiators and their U.S. counterparts in Washington.

No face-to-face meetings were scheduled this week, as the UN General Assembly met in New York City. Freeland and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer had no meetings at the UN, but many high-level conversations happened over the course of the week.

With files from The Canadian Press, Reuters