President Donald Trump told lawmakers of his intent Friday to sign a trade deal with Mexico within three months, even as the status of Canada in the negotiations with the U.S. remains in question.
“Today the president notified the Congress of his intent to sign a trade agreement with Mexico — and Canada, if it is willing — 90 days from now,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in a statement. “The agreement is the most advanced and high-standard trade agreement in the world.”
Lighthizer predicted that “over the next few weeks, Congress and cleared advisers from civil society and the private sector will be able to examine the agreement. They will find it has huge benefits for our workers, farmers, ranchers and businesses.”
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Trump has made it one of his top priorities to either renegotiate or drop out of existing trade deals signed by previous chief executives, including especially the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada.
U.S. and Mexican negotiators have been working for months and reached an agreement in principle earlier this week that promises to promote freer markets, fairer trade and robust economic growth in North America.
The preliminary agreement covers intellectual property laws, updates digital trade rules, enhances worker protections, and strengthens environmental regulations. It is still subject to finalization and implementation between the two countries. The deal must be approved by the U.S. Senate as well.
Canada, however, has been the more difficult challenge in the NAFTA renegotiation, and the talks were further roiled Friday when The Toronto Star published leaked comments from the president in which he said he would not compromise with Canada and that it would be insulting if they didn’t take the deal.
Trump’s comments apparently came from off-the-record statements the president made during an interview with Bloomberg. Trump denounced the publication for what he called dishonest reporting in a tweet while claiming Bloomberg blatantly violated the interview’s ground rules understanding.
Even so, the talks with Canada continue.
“We have also been negotiating with Canada throughout this year-long process,” Lighthizer said. “This week those meetings continued at all levels. The talks were constructive, and we made progress. Our officials are continuing to work toward agreement. The USTR team will meet with Minister Freeland and her colleagues Wednesday of next week.”
White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Kevin Hassett urged Canada in an interview Wednesday to join a trade deal between the United States and Mexico.
He told Fox Business Network that he hopes that Canada will be part of it and that there has been some progress. Trump said Canadian officials are negotiating with him at the White House during a rally late Thursday.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Tuesday the deal will likely not come up for a vote in Congress before February 2019.