Freeland postpones UN speech today amid NAFTA talks and looming deadline

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s marquee speech today to the UN General Assembly has been postponed until Monday, and officials say there is a strong possibility someone else might have to deliver the remarks on Canada’s behalf.

Officials in Freeland’s office say the minister, who is in the throes of an intensive, last-stage effort to secure a North American free trade deal, has traded her time slot on the UN rostrum.

They haven’t said why, but it’s likely to let Freeland focus on efforts to get Canada into a trilateral NAFTA deal with the U.S. and Mexico, which sources say have intensified this week in the face of Monday’s congressional deadline.

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

As of Saturday morning, the minister was still in Canada.

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’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. 

“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, who have been involved in intensive talks all week.

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 CBC News, Reuters



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