Canada and the United States have reached an 11th hour deal on a modernized North American Free Trade Agreement.
For hours Sunday night, reporters stood guard outside the prime minister’s headquarters — swapping stories and finding ways to protect themselves against the cold.
Inside, Canadian negotiators were working the phones as they attempted to hammer out a deal with their American counterparts as they faced a fast-encroaching, United States-imposed midnight deadline.
At first it didn’t look like a deal was going to happen. Ahead of Sunday, headlines in American papers were warning negotiators were likely to miss yet another U.S. deadline.
Several sticking points remained, reporters were told: dairy and dispute resolution among them.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived around 7:30 p.m. local time. He entered the building without saying a word, his blazer slung casually over his shoulder.
More waiting ensued. One reporter spotted a mouse scurrying into a crack in the building’s foundation.
Trade reporters who had been on a NAFTA stakeout before swapped stories.
Then, all of a sudden the mood changed.
Around 9 p.m. ET word broke that an emergency cabinet meeting had been called for 10 p.m.
A short time later, cabinet ministers were spotted scuttling their way across Ottawa’s darkened Sparks Street pedestrian mall.
Camera operators and reporters dodged planters, benches and bicycles as the pack tailed ministers on their way into the building. “Is there a deal?” They asked.
No one really answered.
Details started trickling out shortly thereafter.
Yes. There was a deal.
Yes. The new NAFTA would include the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
Cabinet ministers still wouldn’t divulge details, choosing to defer to Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
While details are still emerging (only the Americans have released their version of the text,) a preliminary glance shows Canada’s supply-managed sectors bore the brunt of the concessions.
Under the United States, Mexico, Canada Agreement (USMCA), the federal government offered access to 3.59 percent of this country’s dairy market, more than what was agreed to under the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership with pacific nations. (CPTPP).
The Americans also gained additional access to Canada’s egg and poultry markets, much more than what was promised under the CPTPP.
Ottawa agreed to eliminate Class 7, a new domestic milk pricing class that was first brought in by Ontario (Class 6) to deal with increased imports of American diafiltered milk, with a few specifications around how the products are priced.
On Monday, Trudeau referred to those as “modifications” and insisted repeatedly that Canada’s supply management system has been preserved. He promised adequate compensation in light of the concessions.
In French, he admitted that the concessions made on dairy are “not ideal.”
Dairy, egg and poultry farmers aren’t buying it. If their reaction on social media is any indication, they’re angry.
Trudeau clearly made a political decision. The question now is what the effects of that decision will be.
As of press time, Quebec voters were headed to the polls. All four provincial party leaders have vowed to defend the dairy industry. Quebec supplies 50 percent of the country’s milk. Sixty percent of the province’s agriculture industry is supply management.
Ontario has also promised to continue fighting for the province’s farmers, where all eyes are on a compensation package.
Quebec and Ontario are influential players in federal politics. If the Liberals are to remain in power, they will need significant support in those provinces.
Sunday’s agreement is only the first step in what will be a long road ahead. Countries have 60 days to review the text before it is signed. The deal must also be ratified by all three countries.