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Leaders of Canada, Mexico say they're not walking away from NAFTA

Last Updated Oct 12, 2017 at 11:26 pm EST

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto shakes hands during a meeting at the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The leaders of Canada and Mexico joined forces Thursday to combat the idea that an aggressive U.S. demand during the NAFTA negotiations could tank the deal.

The latest potential poison pill came in the form of a U.S. proposal for a sunset clause, that would see any new North American Free Trade Agreement terminated after just five years.

The current deal has been in place for over two decades.

But both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said the proposal remains just that, an idea, and it will be discussed just like everything else on the table.

“We will continue to take very seriously the work we do and we will not be walking away from the table based on proposals put forward,” Trudeau said at a joint news conference with Pena Nieto in Mexico City’s stately National Palace.

“We will discuss those proposals, we will counter those proposals and we will take seriously these negotiations.”

Trudeau and Pena Nieto talked with their aides and then their foreign affairs and trade teams for close to two hours Thursday afternoon, and while the two sides were discussing a range of issues, the ongoing talks to rework NAFTA were top of mind.

Pena Nieto suggested that while observers have made predictions that certain proposals could tank the talks, that’s only speculation.

“I would not pay much attention to any statements other than that which happens (at) the negotiation tables,” he said, according to an English translation of his remarks.

Pena Nieto indicated he was paying attention to a suggestion from U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday that should NAFTA talks fail, bilateral deals could be negotiated instead.

Trudeau didn’t rule out the notion, and Pena Nieto said he did discuss it with the prime minister during their talks.

But he said he also heard Trump say that the three countries could find a creative way to negotiate a new trilateral pact.

“I think that Canada and Mexico share the idea that the NAFTA agreement is a good mechanism, it’s not the only one but it’s a good mechanism to potentialize the development of the North American region and to turn it into the most competitive one.”

Efforts by Canada and Mexico to deepen their own bilateral connections, however, were on full display Thursday.

In the room during the news conference were dozens of Mexican firefighters who assisted in combating wildfires in B.C., while prior to their meeting, Pena Nieto took Trudeau past a photo display of Canadian relief efforts in the wake of devastating earthquakes in Mexico last month.

Trudeau had stopped by a Red Cross aid distribution centre earlier Thursday as part of his government’s approach of engaging in more public diplomacy events to encourage foreign relations.

But the formal side is equally important. Trudeau will address the Mexican Senate on Friday, one of only a handful of foreign leaders to have ever done so.