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Canadian politicians, officials make another NAFTA push on deadline

National flags representing the United States, Canada, and Mexico fly in the breeze in New Orleans where leaders of the North American Free Trade Agreement met on April 21, 2008. Canada and the U.S. had a testy exchange over the idea of a termination clause in NAFTA.The U.S. has revived the idea of a sunset clause. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Judi Bottoni

Canadian politicians and officials are in Washington and New York Thursday, seeking a path forward on NAFTA and making the case that a quick deal remains possible.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and several top-level staffers are meeting throughout the day with U.S. officials and presidential advisers in encounters spanning from the White House, to the U.S. trade building, to Manhattan, where the prime minister is currently visiting.

Canada’s ambassador to Washington, David MacNaughton, says the high-level conversations are looking at what’s next for the negotiations.

“We will do an assessment of where are we and is there a chance of pulling all this together in a fairly rapid fashion or not?” MacNaughton said.

This comes as the countries are on deadline for getting a deal in the short term.

Any agreement will have to be voted on by a future U.S. Congress after the midterm elections and may need the assent of Mexico’s next president.

But MacNaughton says he believes it’s still possible and desirable to achieve an agreement soon.

“We’re pretty close,” he said. “There are still some tough issues to deal with, but do you really want to kick this down the road and miss the opportunity to … pull all that good work that’s been done together and get something formally done?”

The U.S. objective in these talks was to reduce its trade deficit, he said.

“Eighty per cent of that deficit has to do with autos. We’re that close on autos,” he said, illustrating with a thumb and index finger held close together.

“If you want to get this over the finish line, we’re a long way towards getting it there. So let’s wrap it up and get it done.”