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US, Canada seek extending NAFTA talks into the summer

011218 Higgins Canada NAFTA photo
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says that she is open to extending NAFTA talks into the summer. Such an extension would hold off a possible collapse. (Geoff Robins/The Canadian Press via AP)

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said Friday that her country was open to at least one suggestion of President Trump's regarding the North American Free Trade Agreement — extending the talks into the summer.

An extension would hold off a possible collapse in the talks, something that all sides are seeing as a looming possibility.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published Friday, Trump indicated that he would like to see the current talks between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to renegotiate the 1993 deal extended past Mexico's July presidential election. "I’m leaving it a little flexible because they have an election coming up. So, I understand a lot of things are hard to negotiate prior to an election," he said.

Freeland told reporters in London, Ontario, "I thought that was a sensible suggestion from the President. I think all of us are mindful of the Mexican elections. ... We have always felt that imposing artificial deadlines was not necessary from the Canadian standpoint."

The sixth round of talks are scheduled to start in Montreal on Jan. 23, and the talks were originally expected to conclude in March. Extending them into the summer would allow additional time for the parties to reach an agreement that has thus far eluded them.

The talks have not gone well for the U.S. Canadian and Mexican officials rejected U.S. demands to change the rules for determining when a product can be labeled as "made in America" or "made in the U.S.A.," arguing that the changes would damage the auto industry, whose supply chain is spread throughout the continent. The administration is also pushing to add an end date to NAFTA as well as to allow countries to opt out of its investment dispute settlement system, changes the trading partners also object to.

In the same Wall Street Journal interview, Trump reiterated that the U.S. would pullout of NAFTA entirely if the U.S. demands are not met. He then further roiled the talks by tying the renegotiation to his call for a U.S.-Mexico wall. "[W]e make a good deal on NAFTA, say I’m going to take a small percentage of that money and it’s going to go toward the wall. Guess what? Mexico’s paying."

Canadian officials on Wednesday told Reuters they are increasingly convinced that Trump would pull the U.S. out of NAFTA, while Mexican officials said the country would pull out of the free-trade deal if the U.S. does.