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article image'More work' to get a continental trade deal: Trudeau

By Michel COMTE (AFP)     Sep 19, 2018 in Politics

There is still a way to go to reach a new North American Free Trade Agreement, Canada's prime minister said Wednesday, brushing off US pressure for a quick deal as high-level talks resumed in Washington.

"Our team is in Washington this morning to continue to see if we can get a good deal for Canada, a good deal for everyone," said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"We remain confident that there is always a deal possible, but it will take more work," he added.

As he spoke in Ottawa, Canada's top diplomat Chrystia Freeland, who leads the Canadian negotiating team, was meeting with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Washington.

Negotiations to modernize the 1994 accord between Canada, the United States and Mexico started a year ago at the behest of US President Donald Trump, who called it "one of the worst trade deals in history" for sending many manufacturing jobs -- notably in the auto sector -- to Mexico.

Freeland told reporters on Wednesday that negotiators had worked through the night. She emerged from meetings with Lighthizer saying officials were "tired but in good spirits."

"Our negotiators have been really hard added including an all-night session last night of one team. So we are working very, very hard," she said.

The United States and Mexico sealed their own two-way deal at the end of August, and Trump has since ramped up pressure on Canada to accept his terms.

But Ottawa has seemed reluctant to heed Trump's push to sign a deal before US midterm elections in November and the transfer of power in December to Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador -- as Trudeau's Liberals also need a win to hold up to voters when they return to the polls in one year.

- Dairy farmers on edge -

Ottawa and Washington remain at odds over Canada's protected dairy sector and cultural subsidies, as well as Canada's demand for an international system for resolving disputes.

Earlier, Canadian dairy farmers publicly urged Trudeau not to cave to US demands for increased access to Canada's dairy market, noting that the US already sells five times more milk to Canada than Canada sells to the US.

"We call on the government to ensure that any final NAFTA deal has no further negative impact on our dairy sector," Pierre Lampron, the president of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, said at a news conference.

Flanked by dairy farmers from all of Canada's 10 provinces, he said Ottawa had given milk and cheese carve-outs to the EU and 10 member nations in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact in order to secure free trade with those blocs.

This cost Canada Can$250 million (US$193 million) in lost milk production, Lampron said. The Canadian industry is valued at Can$19 billion.

"This doesn't only hurt dairy farmers. From equipment dealers, to feed manufacturers to veterinarians to truck drivers, to processors, all are negatively impacted by these (trade) deals," Lampron said. "Enough is enough."

The supply-managed sector sees milk, egg and poultry production and prices controlled by the government, resulting in higher prices for consumers but a stable income for farmers.

"We will continue to defend supply management," Trudeau said. "This is a system that works for Canadians. It works for our agricultural industry."

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