After delivering veiled takedown of U.S. protectionism, Freeland says NAFTA talks to continue through summer

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Even with tensions simmering between the U.S. and Canada, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said today the two countries will continue to negotiate NAFTA through the summer.

Freeland capped off a brief trip to Washington with a meeting with United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer this morning. She said the two agreed to continue NAFTA negotiations with Mexico this summer, despite a looming election in that country, but didn’t set any dates.

‘This is a master negotiator…President Trump doesn’t issue empty threats,’ says Republican Representative for North Dakota Kevin Cramer on Power & Politics. 7:40

The morning meeting came after Freeland ​delivered a major foreign policy speech after receiving Foreign Policy magazine’s Diplomat of the Year award.

The speech offered a strongly-worded defence of the international rules-based system that the U.S. helped create after the Second World War, and held on to during the Cold War.

“We all know we will be strongest with America in our ranks — and indeed in the lead,” she told the crowd of diplomats and academics. “But whatever this great country’s choice will turn out to be, let me be clear that Canada knows where it stands.”

The Trudeau government has openly said the Canada-U.S. relationship reached a turning point when U.S. President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, citing national security reasons as justification. Trump and two of his top advisers also launched an unprecedented volley of insults against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for attacking the tariffs at the weekend G7 summit in Quebec.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland meets with Ontario premier-designate Doug Ford in Toronto to discuss the ongoing NAFTA negotiations. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Freeland tried to rebut reporters who asked if her speech was aimed at Trump — and whether Canada feared further repercussions from the Trump White House because of it.

“Why I said the things I said yesterday was liberal democracy is under assault right now and authoritarianism is on the march,” Freeland told reporters the morning after her speech.

Pointing to her favourite line in William Butler Yeats’s 1920 poem The Second Coming — ‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst; Are full of passionate intensity’ — Freeland said it’s time to stand up.

“I believe very strongly that it is important for those of us who believe in liberal democracy — and I think that includes the overwhelming majority of Canadians — for us to strike back,” she said.

​The Canadian minister said she gave a version of her speech to Lighthizer. 

Ford and Freeland

Upon returning to Canada Freeland met with with Ontario premier-designate Doug Ford and Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. David MacNaughton to discuss the state of NAFTA negotiations.

Ford said it was a privilege to work with Freeland and voiced the hope that they could strike a deal that to the benefit of Canada, the U.S. and Ontario.

“I reaffirmed Ontario’s government standing shoulder to shoulder with our federal counterparts,” Ford told reporters after the meeting.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Ontario premier-designate Doug Ford say they will work ‘shoulder to shoulder’ to present a unified team in Canada’s ongoing NAFTA negotiations with the United States. 1:33

“We must stand together during these critical negotiations because there is so much at stake, jobs across our economy, workers and their families entire communities are all counting on us to defend Ontario’s interests, and Canada’s interests, and we will do just that.”

Freeland said that one of Canada’s greatest strengths in the NAFTA negotiations has been the ‘team Canada’ approach that has seen the provinces and federal parties present a united front.

“I said to the premier designate how much I appreciate the strong position he has taken … expressing a shoulder-to-shoulder solidarity with the federal government and I would really like to thank him for that,” she said.



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