Canadian Government Launches Charm Offensive In U.S. Ahead Of NAFTA Talks

Federal government officials in Ottawa are pushing hard to salvage contentious negotiations aimed at revitalizing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The talks between Canada, the United States and Mexico have been fractured in recent months, with U.S. President Donald Trump publicly threatening to scrap NAFTA all together and Mexican government officials publicly conceding that the 24-year-old trade agreement might be coming to an end.

However, Canadian officials do not seem willing to throw in the towel on NAFTA just yet. Three Canadian cabinet ministers are in the U.S. this week to promote trade, and more are expected to head south as part of a new charm offensive being orchestrated by Ottawa.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale is currently in Kentucky for a series of meetings with high level officials, including Governor Matt Bevin. The U.S. Ambassador to Canada, Kelly Craft, who is from Kentucky, is attending all of those meetings. Canada’s Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, meanwhile, is in California for discussions on clean technology and trade. And Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay is in Tennessee attending the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual trade show.

Government officials have said that more federal ministers and Members of Parliament will be fanning out across the U.S. in coming weeks as part of a “charm offensive” amid the tense ongoing NAFTA renegotiation process. Representatives of the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have met with hundreds of American politicians over the past 12 months. At every opportunity, Canadian officials stress the number of American jobs that depend on trade with Canada, and to lobby for support of NAFTA.

This charm offensive by Canada comes weeks ahead of the next round of NAFTA talks that are scheduled to take place in Montreal, Quebec, and at a time when there has been no movement on five “poison pills” proposed by the U.S. that have frustrated Canadian and Mexican negotiators. Canada and Mexico have each said they will not support U.S. demands on multiple economic sectors, including the auto industry, government procurement and trade dispute resolution mechanisms.

Negotiators at the bargaining table will be under heightened pressure in the next round of talks as the political leaders overseeing the negotiations are scheduled to be in Montreal at the same time. Agriculture, in particular, is proving to be a sticking point in the NAFTA talks. Canada and the U.S have different views on the dairy farming industry. The Americans wants the sector brought into the free trade agreement and have asked Canada to eventually dismantle its supply management quota system. Farmers in the U.S. have long complained about Canadian dairy regulations. But Canada has said it will protect supply management at all costs.