Chrystia Freeland speaks during an election event as part of the Canadian Muslim Townhall series at the University of Toronto on Sunday, September 22, 2019. Whether or not Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffles her to a new cabinet post on Wednesday, Freeland’s imprint on Canada’s foreign policy will remain visible for some time to come, analysts suggest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin

Freeland heads to Washington for trade talks with U.S. and Mexico

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland working to ratify the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland is headed to Washington for North American trade talks with another deadline looming.

Officials from the continent’s three countries have been holding talks aimed at speeding the ratification of the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement ahead of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

The Privy Council Office said in a statement that Freeland would be meeting her American and Mexican counterparts, Robert Lighthizer, the Trump administration’s trade czar, and Jesus Seade, Mexico’s undersecretary for North America on Wednesday.

Freeland, who is the lead minister for the renegotiation of North American Free Trade Agreement, started her with a federal cabinet meeting in the Ottawa area.

Canadian government officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said Canada’s acting ambassador Kirsten Hillman and chief trade negotiator Steve Verheul were representing Canada in talks earlier in the day.

Officials say Freeland has spoken on the phone with Lighthizer both Tuesday and Wednesday.

Mexico is the only country to legally approve the deal, while Canada is waiting on the U.S. Congress to make its first move towards ratification.

The American Thanksgiving holiday was seen by many as the last reasonable opportunity for U.S. lawmakers to practically dispatch with USMCA amid the broader impeachment drama engulfing President Donald Trump and the looming political shift ahead of the November 2020 presidential election.

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Democrats control the House of Representatives and have been negotiating with Lighthizer for many months to strengthen several of the deal’s provisions, including improved labour standards to ensure that Mexico’s much promised workplace reforms can be enforced.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House Leader who controls the introduction of a ratification bill, said earlier this week that she and Lighthizer “were within range of a substantially improved agreement for America’s workers.” But she added she wanted Lighthizer to put that in writing “for final review.”

Trump and his top economic adviser, Peter Navarro, have levelled scathing criticism on Pelosi and the Democrats for blocking progress on the trade deal by focusing on impeachment.

The Canadian Press

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