Trade talks between US and Canadian officials broke down on Friday, leaving US officials with only a preliminary agreement with Mexico on the North American Free Trade Agreement. The breakdown followed reports that President Donald Trump had said in an off-the-record setting that the US would make no concessions to Canada.
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in a statement that Trump had notified Congress that he intends to sign a trade agreement with Mexico 90 days from now — and that Canada would join “if it is willing.” He added that US and Canadian officials would meet again next Wednesday.
“We have also been negotiating with Canada throughout this year-long process. This week those meetings continued at all levels,” Lighthizer said. “The talks were constructive, and we made progress. Our officials are continuing to work toward agreement.”
The trade talks with Canada were thrown into disarray Friday morning after The Toronto Star reported that Trump had told reporters in an off-the-record discussion that he didn’t plan to compromise with Canada at all on NAFTA.
According to The Star, Trump told Bloomberg News reporters on Thursday that any deal reached would be “totally on our terms” and suggested that Canadians would have “no choice” but to go along with the plan out of fear that Trump would impose auto tariffs.
“Off the record, Canada’s working their ass off. And every time we have a problem with a point, I just put up a picture of a Chevrolet Impala,” Trump said, according to The Star. The Chevrolet Impala is produced at a General Motors plant in Canada.
Trump appeared to confirm that he made the remarks, tweeting on Friday afternoon: “At least Canada knows where I stand!” He also blamed Bloomberg for the leak, though it was unclear who The Star’s source was.
“Wow, I made OFF THE RECORD COMMENTS to Bloomberg concerning Canada, and this powerful understanding was BLATANTLY VIOLATED,” he wrote. “Oh well, just more dishonest reporting. I am used to it.”
The Star said that the remarks were made to Bloomberg News reporters on condition they not be published and that it had obtained them from a source and published them because it was not bound by Bloomberg’s agreement with Trump.
Bloomberg said in a statement, “When we agree that something is off the record, we respect that.”
‘I can’t kill these people’
Trump also reportedly said he didn’t want his comments published because it would be “so insulting” to Canadians.
“Here’s the problem,” he said, according to The Star. “If I say no — the answer’s no. If I say no, then you’re going to put that, and it’s going to be so insulting they’re not going to be able to make a deal … I can’t kill these people.”
He reportedly added: “Again off the record, they came knocking on our doors last night. ‘Let’s make a deal. Please.'”
The Star said the Canadian government was aware of Trump’s remarks and viewed them as confirmation that the Trump administration was not bargaining in good faith. One official told The Star that the Americans were not offering “any movement” on the issues Canada wanted to negotiate.
NAFTA talks came down to the wire Friday morning, as officials from Canada and the US met with the stated goal of reaching a deal by the end of the day.
Canada and the US have been at loggerheads over several key NAFTA provisions, particularly agricultural and trade-dispute resolution issues. The US has demanded concessions from Canada on its protected dairy market, while Canada is fighting to keep the dispute-settlement mechanism that the US wants to eliminate.
The talks followed an announcement by Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Monday that the US and Mexico had reached a preliminary deal, a move seen as upping the stakes for Canadian negotiators, who risked being excluded from a bilateral agreement.