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Freeland plays down Trump assertion Canada being 'difficult, spoiled' on NAFTA

Last Updated May 23, 2018 at 6:40 pm EDT

President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable on immigration policy at Morrelly Homeland Security Center, Wednesday, May 23, 2018, in Bethpage, N.Y. Trump says Canada and Mexico are "spoiled" and difficult to deal with in NAFTA negotiations. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

OTTAWA – U.S. President Donald Trump says Canada and Mexico are “spoiled” and difficult to deal with in NAFTA negotiations.

But Canadian officials are playing down the typically bombastic comments, insisting progress is still being made — particularly on the pivotal issue of automobiles — towards a deal that will be mutually beneficial to all three countries.

“Mexico has been very difficult to deal with. Canada has been very difficult to deal with,” Trump said Wednesday.

“They have been taking advantage of the United States for a long time. I am not happy with their requests but I will tell you, in the end we win, we will win and we’ll win big.”

Trump said what Canada and Mexico are asking for in a renegotiated NAFTA is “not fair” and he called both countries “spoiled because nobody’s done this” — presumably referring to previous American administrations that have not stood up to their NAFTA partners.

He also predicted that American auto workers “are going to be extremely happy” with what emerges. That was after starting the day with a tweet suggesting that “there will be big news coming soon for our great American autoworkers. After many decades of losing your jobs to other countries, you have waited long enough!”

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the Trump administration is considering a plan to impose new tariffs of up to 25 per cent on imported vehicles.

That could impact NAFTA negotiations insofar as it could bolster U.S. demands that vehicles must have greater American and North American content to be eligible for duty-free status under the trade pact. Trade experts have warned that if the requirements are too onerous, auto and auto parts makers will opt out of NAFTA and pay the existing 2.5 per cent tariff on imported vehicles — a move that would be less attractive if the tariff was dramatically increased.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Wednesday that NAFTA negotiations continue “at a very intense level,” with officials from all three countries in close contact. She spoke to her counterparts, U.S. trade czar Robert Lighthizer and Mexican economic secretary Ildefonso Guajardo, on Monday and said they all agreed “to be in constant contact.”

“We all agreed that the three of us are ready to jump on a plane and meet anywhere to get this done,” she said. “My suitcase is packed.”

Since the U.S. put forward a “creative set of proposals” on auto rules of origin in March, Freeland said the NAFTA partners have been “working very hard at a great level of detail on advancing that discussion.”

“We have been making steady, consistent progress on rules of origin on cars and that is the primary focus of the hard work that officials have been doing this week,” she added.

Freeland said she’ll let others decide “which adjectives” they’d use to describe Canada’s negotiating stance. But she said it hasn’t changed since the outset of negotiations last summer, which is to be “absolutely resolute in our defence of the Canadian national interest” while “looking creatively for compromises, for win-win-win solutions.”