(Bloomberg) -- It’s possible the U.S., Canada and Mexico can rework NAFTA to the benefit of all parties, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said, adding to recent positive signs for the 24-year old trade pact.
Freeland said it’s possible the three nations can come away with a “win-win-win” result on a revamped North American Free Trade Agreement, even as she acknowledged gaps remain on some issues.
“I was cautiously optimistic” following the end of a round of talks earlier this week in Montreal, Freeland said. “We made some progress on the most difficult issues, the areas of the unconventional U.S. proposals, where we managed to start a real conversation.”
Freeland’s comments come one day after U.S. President Donald Trump sidestepped Nafta in his State of the Union speech, saying only the U.S. has “turned the page on decades of unfair trade deals” -- and two days after the sixth round of talks ended with some progress and a U.S. demand to speed things up.
Freeland, a former trade minister, was shuffled into her role shortly after Trump’s election and given particular responsibility for U.S. ties. Canada is pushing for modernization of Nafta while mounting a widespread lobbying campaign in the U.S. to put pressure on Trump to not follow through on his threat to kill the deal.
“Significant differences remain,” Freeland said. “We have some hard work to do to bridge those differences. I believe that it is absolutely possible. I think a win-win-win outcome can be achieved. But at the same time our approach in Canada is hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and we are doing both.”
Freeland was asked about a separate trade spat with the U.S. over Canadian exports of softwood lumber. The best solution is a negotiated settlement, Freeland said, adding the disagreement, which predates the Trump administration, is on a separate track to the Nafta talks.
While she praised the U.S. International Trade Commission’s decision on Bombardier Inc., she declined to say whether Canada would now actively consider buying fighter jets from Boeing Co.
“As we’ve said from day one, we thought the initial commerce ruling was unfair and punitive,” Freeland said in a separate interview with Bloomberg. “We’re going to take a little bit more time to see what the reaction to all the parties is to the ITC ruling.”
Asked if Freeland agreed with her U.S. counterpart Robert Lighthizer that the pace of Nafta talks should pick up, she said, “all of us would like the negotiations to be finished as soon as possible.” She added there shouldn’t be any “false artificial deadlines on these talks.”
Freeland is set to meet U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Mexico’s Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray on Friday in Mexico City, in part to discuss NAFTA.
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