POLITICS
09/26/2018 18:41 EDT | Updated 10/02/2018 10:41 EDT

Trump Rips Canada, NAFTA, Freeland In Marathon Press Conference

"Yeah, I did," said the U.S. president about rejecting a meeting with Trudeau.

OTTAWA — U.S. President Donald Trump says he nixed a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the United Nations because he's upset with the way NAFTA negotiations are going.

"Yeah, I did,'' Trump answered, when asked if he rejected a sit-down with Trudeau during a wide-ranging 80-minute press conference, in which he expressed his unhappiness with Canada and threatened to impose tariffs on cars crossing the border if a deal isn't reached soon.

"His tariffs are too high, and he doesn't seem to want to move, and I've told him 'forget about it,'" he told reporters Wednesday evening about a face-to-face meeting.

"Frankly, we're thinking about just taxing cars coming in from Canada,'' he said. "That's the motherlode, that's the big one.''

"We're very unhappy with the negotiations and the negotiation style of Canada — we don't like their representative very much," he added, in an apparent reference to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. Freeland has been in and out of Washington, D.C, leading Canada's negotiations on NAFTA with the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

Evan Vucci/CP
U.S. President Donald Trump gives a press conference during the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 26, 2018.

The Prime Minister's Office, however, disputed Trump's assertions. In an email, Trudeau's spokesman Cameron Ahmad said: "No meeting was requested. We don't have any comment beyond that."

On Thursday morning as he entered a cabinet meeting in Ottawa, Trudeau confirmed his office had not asked for a meeting "this time."

"The Americans are finding that the negotiations are tough because Canadians are tough negotiators, as we should be," Trudeau said, about Trump's comments. "But a good and fair deal is still very possible. We won't sign a bad deal for Canada."

The PM walked away when reporters asked if the president was "lying."

'Quick but cordial' interaction

On Wednesday, Trudeau had sought to downplay any friction between himself and the U.S. president. He denied there was anything behind Trump's brusque response to his handshake during a high-level luncheon the day before.

"It was an interaction like so many are (at) the UN, quick but cordial. There are all sorts of opportunities for me to speak with President Trump and that was not the time," said Trudeau, pointing out that Trump appeared to be looking over his notes for a speech.

At an event organized by the Council on Foreign Relations on Tuesday, Trudeau was asked why he wasn't meeting with the U.S. president. He explained that since both leaders speak on the phone "every few weeks," meeting at the United Nations wasn't a productive use of either leaders' time.

We're very unhappy with the negotiations and the negotiation style of Canada — we don't like their representative very much.U.S. President Donald Trump

"When I come here I am trying to meet with a whole bunch of people who come from, you know, far-flung places that we don't get often to meet," he said. "So my schedule is jammed with meetings with leaders from Africa and Asia that otherwise I might not be able to have a sit-down moment with and I can only imagine that the president's schedule is similar."

The Canadian government has sought to paint the NAFTA negotiations in a positive fashion. Freeland has spoken about the "goodwill" around the table, though the prime minister has insisted he is under no rush to sign an agreement he doesn't like.

"We will keep keep working as long as it takes to get to the right deal for Canada," Trudeau said, at a press conference wrapping up his trip to the United Nations.

But Trump's comments makes it clear his administration is losing patience.

"Canada has treated us very badly. They have treated our farmers in Wisconsin and New York state, and a lot of other states very badly," Trump said, citing the dairy tariffs of 300 per cent imposed by Canada's restricted supply management system.

"Canada has a long way to go. I must be honest with you, we are not getting along with their negotiators. We think their negotiators have taken advantage of our country for a long time," he said.

NAFTA has been good for Canada and good for Mexico, the president said, but "very bad for us."

"I'm not going to use the name NAFTA, I've refused to use it. I've seen thousands of plants and factories close. I've seen millions of jobs lost to auto companies that move. Mexico has 25 per cent of the U.S. auto business now because of NAFTA — under our deal [that] is not going to happen anymore, I hate to tell you, it's not. We are going to keep companies," he added.

Carolyn Kaster/CP
Chrystia Freeland arrives at the Office Of The United States Trade Representative on Sept. 11, 2018.

Mexico, who had negotiated a bilateral agreement with the Trump White House that froze Canada out from talks, had made a "very good deal," the president determined. "But with Canada, it is very tough."

Trump said he was ready to move forward with only a U.S.-Mexico deal, but he predicted "Canada will come along" with some strong-armed tactics.

"Now, if Canada doesn't make a deal with us, we are going to make a much better deal. We're going to tax the cars that come in. We will put billions and billions of dollars into our treasury and frankly, we will be very happy because it is actually more money than you can make under any circumstance with making a deal," he said.

Trudeau hinted Wednesday that if the U.S. moves ahead with a deal that only includes Mexico, Canada is weighing its options.

"We will keep working on a broad range of alternatives, a broad range of paths are ahead of us," he said.

If you can't resolve disputes in a fair and balanced way, then what is the use of the agreement?Canada Ambassador To U.S. David MacNaughton

Canada's ambassador to the United States was pretty direct about what Canada hopes to get out of the negotiations.

Speaking in Toronto, David MacNaughton said the government isn't ready to negotiate away an independent dispute resolution mechanism nor is it prepared to accept a deal that provides no assurances that the U.S. president won't cite a national security clause to negate the deal's provisions.

"Our desire is to find a way in which we can get this agreement done, where he can, in his own way, declare victory, to have some kind of a win for what he said he wanted to achieve," MacNaughton said at an event with Politico and the University of Toronto.

"If you can't resolve disputes in a fair and balanced way, then what is the use of the agreement? If you can't have some curb on the arbitrary use of tariffs under the guise of national security with a member of NORAD and somebody who is your closest defence partner, then I don't think it is much of an agreement."

In New York, Trudeau said he had made that plea directly to the U.S. president but he viewed that his job now is to butt out.

"I think most Americans understand that and my focus on this throughout has been, simply, not escalating it, not opining, not weighing-in."