High level NAFTA preparation meetings set for Ottawa on Wednesday

Canada’s ambassador to Washington will be in Ottawa Wednesday for a series of high level discussions with Canadian officials to prepare for the resumption of NAFTA negotiations.

David MacNaughton is expected to sit down with members of the Prime Minister’s Office — including Chief of Staff Katie Telford — and trade officials to discuss strategy and positions, according to a senior source with direct knowledge of the situation.

The source tells CBC News the meetings are meant to make certain everyone is prepared and on the same page when formal talks with the U.S. and Mexico resume.

Dates for trilateral meetings have not yet been set, but face-to-face-to-face discussions could start up as early as next week.

Wednesday’s meeting is expected to remain at the officials’ level, so Foreign Affairs Minster Chrystia Freeland will not be attending.

The source says Canada must be prepared for a fast-moving endgame in the trade talks if the U.S. and Mexico try to make good on pledges to see significant progress on a renegotiated NAFTA by Labour Day.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, the man overseeing American negotiations, told a Senate subcommittee last month that getting a tentative agreement down by the end of August is not “unreasonable … if everybody wants to get it done.”

However, that mild sense of optimism is being met with a healthy dose of skepticism. Over the past year of NAFTA talks, officials have blown past every self-imposed deadline along the way.

Still, the Canadian delegation is gearing up for a busy few weeks.

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