WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has notified Congress that he plans to sign a trade agreement with Mexico — and Canada, if it is willing — in 90 days, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Friday.
Lighthizer made the announcement in a statement after high-stakes talks that the Trump administration and Canadian officials have been holding in Washington broke up Friday afternoon without a deal. Lighthizer said the talks will resume Wednesday.
The talks are intended to bring Canada into a new trade accord that would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The flurry of events followed a preliminary agreement that the United States and Mexico reached Monday to replace NAFTA with an arrangement that is intended, among other things, to shift more auto manufacturing to the United States.
The Trump administration had insisted that it wanted a deal by Friday, beginning a 90-day countdown that would let Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto sign the pact before leaving office Dec. 1.
But under U.S. trade rules, the U.S. team wouldn't have to make public the text of the revamped agreement for 30 additional days, possibly buying more time to reach a deal with the Canadians. Lighthizer's statement Friday said Trump intends to sign a new trade deal with Mexico, whether or not Canada is part of it.
Trump has said privately that he won't make compromises with Canada in high-stakes talks to revamp NAFTA, the Toronto Star reported Friday.
The report raised doubts about whether the two countries can quickly reach a deal to keep Canada in the 24-year-old trading bloc, along with the United States and Mexico.
The Star obtained the president's comments from an interview that Trump gave to Bloomberg News on Thursday. Trump wanted the comments to remain private. Otherwise, the president reportedly said in the interview, "it's going to be so insulting they're not going to be able to make a deal."
The report, and the dim picture it offered of the U.S.-Canada negotiations, appeared to dishearten Wall Street, where traders sent stock prices falling in the wake of the report.
On Friday afternoon, Trump took to Twitter and appeared to confirm the Star's report:
"Wow, I made OFF THE RECORD COMMENTS to Bloomberg concerning Canada, and this powerful understanding was BLATANTLY VIOLATED. Oh well, just more dishonest reporting. I am used to it. At least Canada knows where I stand!"
On Monday, the United States and Mexico reached a preliminary agreement to replace NAFTA with an arrangement that is intended, among other things, to shift more auto manufacturing to the United States.
Canada was pointedly not part of that deal. Its top trade envoy, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, rushed to Washington on Tuesday to try to negotiate Canada's way back into a new version of the 24-year-old NAFTA. The U.S.-Canadian talks have been ongoing since then.
After sounding optimistic Thursday, Freeland appeared gloomier on Friday.
"We are looking for a good deal, not just any deal," she told reporters, "and we will only agree to a deal that is a good deal for Canada. We are not there yet."
Under U.S. trade rules, the U.S. team wouldn't have to make public the text of the revamped agreement for 30 additional days, possibly buying more time to reach a deal with the Canadians.
A senior Canadian official who spoke on condition of anonymity shrugged off the American deadlines. "We are not bound by the intricacies of the U.S. domestic process," the official said.