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Trump almost ready to sign Mexico deal

Talks to keep Canada in a North American trade bloc have broken up, and will resume next week with the two longtime allies divided over such issues as Canada's dairy market and US efforts to shield drug companies from generic competition.

President Donald Trump notified Congress on Friday that he plans to sign an agreement in 90 days with Mexico to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement - and hopes Canada can brought on board, too. Congress eventually would have to approve any agreement.

The US and Mexico reached a deal on Monday that excluded Canada. The top Canadian trade envoy, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, then hurried to Washington for talks aimed at preserving Canada's membership in the regional trade agreement.

But Freeland couldn't break an impasse in four days of negotiations with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. The US-Canada talks will resume Wednesday.

The negotiations had taken an odd turn for the worse Friday over news that President Donald Trump had told Bloomberg News that he wasn't willing to make any concessions to Canada. Trump said he wanted the remarks to remain off-the-record; otherwise, the president said, "it's going to be so insulting they're not going to be able to make a deal."

The comments were leaked to the Toronto Star, and on Friday afternoon, Trump took to Twitter to angrily confirm the Star's report:

"Wow, I made OFF THE RECORD COMMENTS to Bloomberg concerning Canada, and this powerful understanding was BLATANTLY VIOLATED. Oh well, just more dishonest reporting. I am used to it. At least Canada knows where I stand!"

Freeland tried to brush off the controversy in a news conference. "My negotiating counterparty is Ambassador Lighthizer," she said. "He has brought good faith and good will to the table."

"It is Trump's bluster at best, but obviously he is not going to force anyone into a bad deal," said Jerry Dias, president of the Canadian private-sector union Unifor. "It is clear the US economy is much bigger than ours, but trying to embarrass the Canadian team, trying to insult Canadians, is not going to get him anywhere."

Still, Freeland expressed confidence that Canada could reach a deal with the United States on a revamped trade accord that could please all sides.

The 24-year-old NAFTA tore down most trade barriers dividing the United States, Mexico and Canada. Trade between the three countries surged. But many manufacturers responded to the agreement by moving factories south of the border to take advantage of low Mexican wages, then shipping goods north to the United States and Canada.

Trump has charged that the deal wiped out American factory jobs. He has vowed to negotiate a better deal - or withdraw from NAFTA altogether. Talks on a new trade deal started a year ago but bogged down over US demands, including some meant to return manufacturing to the United States.

A few weeks ago, the United States began negotiating with Mexico, leaving Canada on the sidelines. Outgoing Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto wanted to sign a deal before he left office December 1. The deal announced Monday would, among many other things, require that 40 per cent to 45 per cent of a car be made in a North American country where auto workers made at least $US16 an hour - that is, not in Mexico - before qualifying for duty-free status.

Austrlaian Associated PressBack to Breaking News

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