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Trump suggests Canada has been sidelined from latest NAFTA negotiations

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OTTAWA — Donald Trump is suggesting the United States has deliberately left Canada on the NAFTA sidelines as negotiations between Washington and Mexico have heated up in recent weeks.

During a televised cabinet meeting today, the U.S. president said his administration isn’t negotiating with Canada right now, before adding that its tariffs are too high and barriers too strong.

Officials from each country have insisted there’s nothing unusual about the one-on-one discussions on the three-country deal because it’s allowing the U.S. and Mexico sort tough bilateral issues, such as their differences on autos.

But some observers have argued Ottawa has been frozen out of the critical NAFTA negotiations and could eventually be forced into accepting a deal reached between its continental partners.

For four straight weeks, U.S. trade czar Robert Lighthizer and Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo have held bilateral NAFTA talks while Canada has been absent from the bargaining table.

During the cabinet meeting, Lighthizer told the room he’s hopeful for a NAFTA breakthrough with Mexico in the coming days — but Trump said he’s in no rush to make a deal unless it’s the right one.

Trump’s remarks came on the one-year anniversary of the start of NAFTA’s renegotiation.

“We’re not negotiating with Canada right now,” said Trump, who has frequently complained about Canada’s supply-managed dairy sector.

“Their tariffs are too high, their barriers are too strong, so we’re not even talking to them right now. But we’ll see how that works out. It’ll only work out to our favour.”

Asked about Trump’s remarks Thursday, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Ottawa’s officials remain in touch with their American and Mexican partners.

“Minister Freeland, Ambassador (David) MacNaughton and the Canadian negotiating team are in regular contact with their counterparts and we look forward to continuing these important discussions in the coming weeks,” Adam Austen wrote in an email.

“Our focus remains defending Canadian interests as we work towards a modernized, updated NAFTA agreement.”

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