Major concessions on access to the dairy market could turn into a volatile election issue in Quebec, where the latest poll shows the governing Liberals creeping ahead
As high-intensity trade talks ended in Washington Thursday without a breakthrough, speculation mounted that Canada will wait until after Quebec’s Oct. 1 election to strike a deal, hoping to lessen the political fallout from potential concessions around the dairy industry.
The word throughout the U.S. administration and Congress is that Canadian trade negotiators are reluctant to make deep dairy compromises – if American negotiators continue to demand them – until later next month, said Dan Ujczo, a trade lawyer closely monitoring the discussions.
“If we move past today without any significant progress, I think we’re looking at a post-Quebec election scenario,” he said. “If I’m a Canadian negotiator, why would I make significant concessions days before the Quebec election? It doesn’t make sense.”
Meetings between Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer wrapped up Thursday without a deal between the two countries. They have been immersed in pressure-filled talks since Mexico and the States announced a bilateral agreement last month.
Freeland was expected back in Ottawa Friday, meaning the ministerial-level discussions would resume next week at the earliest.
A NAFTA agreement then would come on the eve of voting in Quebec, where much of the milk industry is based and major concessions on U.S. access to the dairy market could turn into a volatile election issue. The latest poll shows the governing Liberals creeping ahead of the CAQ in a tightly-fought race.
Meanwhile, a U.S.-Mexican team is actively drafting a text of their bilateral trade deal that can be released in 10 days to meet American legal requirements.