OTTAWA — The Liberal government is prepared to recall Parliament this summer to ratify the new North American trade agreement, The Canadian Press has learned.
As much as the government wants to move “in tandem” with the United States toward final legal approval of the new agreement, it doesn’t want to get too far ahead, said a senior government official who wasn’t authorized to speak for attribution because of the sensitivity of the process.
The source says it is not clear obstacles in the U.S. Congress can be overcome before the current session of the House of Commons expires next week.
Watch: Canada to align itself ‘very much’ with Americans on ratifying new NAFTA. Story continues below.
“We want to move forward with them as closely as possible,” said the source, who characterized the situation in the U.S. as “difficult” and “complicated.”
The government’s options including bringing back the House in the summer, but it is still too early to tell whether that will be necessary, the source added.
The government expects to have a better sense of the way forward after Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland meets Wednesday in Washington with U.S. trade czar Robert Lighthizer and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
That meeting has a packed agenda that includes the strained relations between Canada and China, and the efforts to win the release of the two imprisoned Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence said has President Donald Trump would raise Kovrig and Spavor as part of his broader trade discussion with Chinese President Xi Jinping at this month’s G20 leaders’ summit in Japan.
During a recent visit to Ottawa, Pence said he hoped his country’s Congress would ratify the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement by the end of the summer; the Mexican ambassador to Canada has said his country’s Senate will give final approval at its own extended legislative session this coming Monday or Tuesday.
In the meantime, Canada is moving ahead in the Commons with the ratification process. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally introduced Bill C-100 two weeks ago and MPs debated the ratification bill on Tuesday in second reading.
Throughout the negotiation, we kept our cool in the face of uncertainty and worked on getting a new agreement...Chrystia Freeland, foreign affairs minister
In her speech to Parliament on it, Freeland reiterated that the final hurdle to ratification was cleared last month when the U.S. lifted its punitive U.S. tariffs on Canadian and Mexican steel imports.
Freeland noted the united front that Canadian politicians, business and union leaders presented in dealing with the Trump administration, which forced an often tense and acrimonious renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. President Donald Trump has called NAFTA the worst trade deal in U.S. history and repeatedly threatened to rip it up.
“Throughout the negotiation, we kept our cool in the face of uncertainty and worked on getting a new agreement that would preserve jobs and market access, and in turn, support the middle class and economic growth,” Freeland said.
“We succeeded in preserving key elements of NAFTA, including Chapter 19, the all-important dispute settlement mechanism,” she added. “This was non-negotiable.”
During the debate, opposition MPs urged the government not to rush to ratification because of uncertainty in the U.S.
New Democrat MP Tracey Ramsey said the new deal would raise drug prices for Canadians, which she called a “regressive provision.”
Ramsey said the pact should be renegotiated but Freeland held firm to the government’s position that the deal was done, and that starting new negotiations would be opening a “Pandora’s Box.”
“There is no rush to ratify this agreement. The U.S. has not even put this on the floor of its Congress,” Ramsey said.
Watch: Trudeau defends new NAFTA deal against NDP and Conservative. Story continues below.
Conservative MP Dean Allison urged the government to “move prudently” towards ratification.
“We have already seen the Democrats not wanting to give Mr. Trump any kind of victory. Therefore, we have not seen a lot of co-operation from the U.S.,” said Allison.
“If we get too far ahead of ourselves regarding ratification, that could be an issue. Therefore, I would echo the comments of my colleague from the NDP that as a result of the uncertainty we see in the U.S., we need to be cautious as we move forward with ratification.”
On Wednesday evening, Freeland is scheduled to speak to the Association of Women in International Trade after accepting an award from the group.
On Thursday, Freeland will go to Capitol Hill for talks with Republican and Democratic lawmakers.