2-2-18 5:57 PM EST | Email Article
By Paul Vieira in Ottawa 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday issued his sternest warning yet about U.S. demands for changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement, saying he's ready to "walk away" from negotiations if the Trump administration insists on measures that don't benefit Canada.

"We are not going to take any old deal," Mr. Trudeau said at a town hall event in Nanaimo, British Columbia. "We will not be pushed around."

The Canadian dollar fell sharply following Mr. Trudeau's comments. The loonie was trading at 80.44 U.S. cents late Friday afternoon, after falling as low as 80.41 soon after Mr. Trudeau's comments, according to CQG.

Trade experts have been increasingly optimistic about Nafta's fate, after senior officials from the U.S., Canada and Mexico signaled progress at the latest talks in Montreal. Furthermore, U.S. President Donald Trump's State of the Union address didn't specifically cite Nafta or repeat his threat to withdraw from the pact if Canada and Mexico don't agree to terms more favorable to the U.S.

Still, Mr. Trudeau's threat to walk away marks the second time in as many days a senior Canadian official has cranked up the rhetoric about the Nafta talks.

At an event in New York on Wednesday, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said there was significant progress at the negotiating table but there remains "significant gaps." She said the Trump administration is "explicitly protectionist, and in many areas the objective quite explicitly is to shrink" the U.S.-Canada trading relationship.

Canada recently made an effort to bridge the gaps between the countries with an informal proposal to address U.S. demands for more North American-made content in automobiles. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer dismissed the thrust of the proposal, which he argued would reduce manufacturing jobs on the continent. Mr. Lighthizer also singled out Canada for explicit criticism, in particular for Ottawa's decision to launch a sweeping complaint at the World Trade Organization over the U.S. use of tariffs.

Mr. Trudeau's comments Friday were a departure in tone from earlier in the week, when he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that he does not believe Mr. Trump will ultimately withdraw from Nafta, given the economic repercussions such a move might entail.

In a bid to save Nafta, the Canadian government has launched an exhaustive lobbying campaign in the U.S., targeting lawmakers not just in Washington but at the state and municipal levels, in the hopes they will persuade the Trump administration that killing Nafta would have wide-reaching economic repercussions.

Mr. Trudeau's remarks Friday came at a raucous town hall event, during which he was heckled and peppered with questions from those who oppose his government's approval of the expansion of Kinder Morgan Inc.'s Trans Mountain pipeline. The pipeline would connect the oil sands in Alberta to a Vancouver-area port.

--David George-Cosh contributed to this article.

Write to Paul Vieira at paul.vieira@wsj.com


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 02, 2018 17:57 ET (22:57 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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