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NAFTA top of mind as Canada’s premiers get ready for meeting

Rachel Notley in Edmonton on Feb. 3, 2016.

Jason Franson/The Canadian Press

Cross-border trade and the looming renegotiation of NAFTA top the agenda of the upcoming summer gathering of Canada's premiers, host Rachel Notley says.

Ms. Notley says the premiers will hear from Canada's ambassador to the United States at the meeting of what is known as the Council of the Federation.

"We will be focusing mostly on economic matters beginning with a visit from Ambassador David MacNaughton talking about the work that he's doing in the United States [and] all of us talking about the work that we've being doing in terms of building the relationships in the U.S.," Ms. Notley said in an interview.

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Negotiations are set to begin next month on a re-working of the tripartite 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.

U.S. President Donald Trump's administration formally gave notice in May it wants to renegotiate the deal, labelling it obsolete and unfair to U.S. workers.

Trade between Canada and the United States is pegged at $600-billion. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other premiers have been working with state governors to build cross-border support for the deal.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said it's critical premiers have their voices heard, noting the bulk of his province's billion-dollar rubber exports and lucrative seafood products go to U.S. markets.

"We're not afraid to have NAFTA looked at and negotiated but I think it's important that it doesn't drag on," said Mr. McNeil. "We need to make sure investment confidence is still high."

Premier Wade MacLauchlan of Prince Edward Island said: "We have been the beneficiaries of a growing export economy and intend for that to continue to be the case. We are absolutely for the maintenance of NAFTA and the importance of that trading relationship."

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant said he will talk NAFTA, but also for opportunities beyond the continent.

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"There are opportunities with the comprehensive economic trade agreement between Canada and the European Union and certainly opportunities to see some of the growth in the Asian markets," said Mr. Gallant.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister wants to address domestic issues as well, including the growing number of refugee claimants crossing into Manitoba from the United States.

"I am going to reiterate our call for increased federal partnership and federal resources to improve the processing of asylum claims, for example, [and] to call on the federal government to work with affected provinces and territories to develop a long-term strategy," Mr. Pallister said.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's office said her priority is trade with the United States, but she will also discuss infrastructure spending and pharmacare.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard is expected to speak to his counterparts about his recently released constitutional initiative.

He has said the goal of his government's proposal is to "start a dialogue" he hopes will eventually lead to the reopening of constitutional negotiations and to Quebec finally signing the 1982 Constitution.

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Video: Trudeau urges ‘thinner border’ in speech to U.S. governors (The Canadian Press)
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