WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has said privately that he won’t make compromises with Canada in high-stakes talks to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Toronto Star reported Friday.
The report raised doubts about whether the two countries can quickly reach a deal to keep Canada in the 24-year-old trading bloc, along with the United States and Mexico.
The Star obtained the president’s comments from an interview that Trump gave to Bloomberg News on Thursday. Trump wanted the comments to remain private. Otherwise, the president reportedly said in the interview, “it’s going to be so insulting they’re not going to be able to make a deal.”
The report, and the dim picture it offered of the U.S.-Canada negotiations, appeared to dishearten Wall Street, where traders sent stock prices falling in the wake of the report.
On Monday, the United States and Mexico reached a preliminary agreement to replace NAFTA with an arrangement that is intended, among other things, to shift more auto manufacturing to the United States.
Canada was pointedly not part of that deal. Its top trade envoy, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, rushed to Washington on Tuesday to try to negotiate Canada’s way back into a new version of the 24-year-old NAFTA. The U.S.-Canadian talks have been ongoing since then.
After sounding optimistic Thursday, Freeland appeared gloomier on Friday.
“We are looking for a good deal, not just any deal,” she told reporters, “and we will only agree to a deal that is a good deal for Canada. We are not there yet.”
The U.S. and Canada are wrangling over several tough issues, including American demands for greater access to the Canadian dairy market and Canada’s insistence on maintaining NAFTA’s existing procedure for resolving disputes.
The Trump administration has insisted that it wanted a deal by Friday. That would start a 90-day countdown that would let Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto sign the pact before leaving office Dec. 1.
But under U.S. trade rules, the U.S. team wouldn’t have to make public the text of the revamped agreement for 30 additional days, possibly buying more time to reach a deal with the Canadians.
A senior Canadian official who spoke on condition of anonymity shrugged off the American deadlines. “We are not bound by the intricacies of the U.S. domestic process,” the official said.
The Star’s report on Trump’s off-the-record remarks appeared to complicate matters. In response, Lindsay Walters, a White House spokeswoman, said only, “The Canadian and American negotiators continue to work on reaching a win-win deal that benefits both countries.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has endured a rocky relationship with Trump, fended off a question about the American president’s comments at a news conference Friday.
“Over the past year and a half, there’s a lot of things that have been said from time to time,” Trudeau said. “Our government’s approach is always to stay constructive, positive and engage on the substance of issues.”
Gillies reported from Toronto.