Morneau: No ‘huge advantage’ revealing strategy for NAFTA talks
The Federal government is facing calls to give Canadians a better sense of the country's plan for upcoming NAFTA negotiations, but Finance Minister Bill Morneau isn't keen to reveal too much.
"I'm not seeing where there's a huge advantage to laying out a, 'we don't agree with this, we do agree with this, we this objective,' because that puts us in a position where we've started with some information that might not be where we want to start," he told CTV News in an interview Tuesday.
Conservatives and New Democrats are joining forces in a bid to pressure the Trudeau government to reveal its priorities for the imminent renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Four MPs from both parties sent a joint letter Tuesday to the clerk of the Commons international trade committee, requesting that an emergency meeting be held to grill three cabinet ministers on Canada's negotiating objectives and "expected positive outcomes" of the renegotiation, which is to begin in mid-August.
The committee, on which Liberals hold the majority, is now scheduled to meet Friday to decide whether to accede to the request.
If members agree, the ministers could be called to testify immediately.
Insiders said that Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, the lead minister on NAFTA negotiations, is willing to appear before negotiations start next month but is unlikely to be available as early as Friday.
The request to testify comes after the U.S. Trade Representative released 14 pages of objectives for NAFTA 2.0 on Monday, including a bid to improve market access in the telecom and financial services sectors and a call to scrap the Chapter 19 dispute settlement mechanism.
"What we want to do is put our best foot forward. We want to negotiate the best position for Canada," Morneau added. "It's like the Americans want to do for themselves. ... We think we're taking it in the right approach right now."
But the opposition parties want to force the government's hand by inviting three key ministers to testify at an emergency committee meeting -- Freeland, Morneau, and International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne.
As well, they're asking that Canada's chief NAFTA negotiator, Steve Verheul, be present.
Conservative MP Randy Hoback, one of the four committee members requesting the emergency meeting, said the meeting is necessary to make sure the government has a game plan for negotiations, that they've identified the issues Canadians want to see on the bargaining table and those they don't want on the table.
Which of these U.S. NAFTA targets is the biggest threat for Canada?
"We're not asking them to negotiate in public," he said in an interview.
"But we definitely want to see that they've got a process in place. We know they've been out talking to Canadians ... that they've got an idea what they would like and not like in these negotiations."
Hoback said the government could at least identify "what are the do-not-touch items."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took a step in that direction Tuesday, indicating that he won't bargain away Canada's supply management system for dairy and poultry products, which U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly targeted as unfair subsidization.
"We have always defended supply management. It's a system that works," Trudeau said during a visit to Quebec.
"We have signed significant trade deals with Europe, with North America, elsewhere, protecting our supply management system and we are going to continue to do that."
Hoback said he understands the government's reluctance to give away its negotiating strategy. But when there's too much secrecy, he argued that "assumptions can be made that aren't necessarily true" which can shake investor confidence and create instability for business. Moreover, he said it allows the U.S. to drive the agenda.
-- With files from BNN