Canada plays down Trump comments on NAFTA, sees trilateral deal

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about his summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin as he begins a meeting with members of the U.S. Congress at the White House in Washington, July 17, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada on Thursday played down U.S. President Donald Trump’s suggestion that he might seek separate trade deals with NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico, noting he has made similar comments before.

Trump said on Wednesday the United States might hammer out a trade deal with Mexico, and then do a separate one with Canada later. Talks to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement are moving slowly.

“From the outset President Trump has articulated a desire to do bilateral deals rather than multilateral deals so his comment wasn’t a tremendous surprise,” said David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the United States.

“(NAFTA) is a tripartite agreement, we’d like to keep it that way ... I am still fully confident we are going to end up with a trilateral deal and not two separate bilateral deals,” he told a televised news conference in the Canadian province of New Brunswick.

Hanging over the NAFTA talks is Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on auto imports, which would hit the highly integrated North American car and light truck industry.

MacNaughton said he was encouraged that major firms in the United States were now starting to speak out against the idea.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Susan Thomas