OTTAWA: Canada would welcome an extension of continental trade negotiations beyond a current March deadline, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said Friday in response to the proposal by US President Donald Trump.
Trump told the Wall Street Journal he was "a little flexible" on the timetable for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) talks, saying he did not want to rush a deal prior to upcoming elections in Mexico.
"I thought that was a constructive proposal from the president," Freeland said. "I think all of us are mindful of the Mexican elections."
At Trump's insistence, trade negotiators from Canada, Mexico and the United States have been seeking since last summer to try to revamp the 1994 NAFTA pact.
The next round of talks is scheduled for January 23-28 in Montreal.
"We've always felt that imposing artificial deadlines was not necessary from the Canadian standpoint," Freeland said.
"And we've always understood that this was a very complex negotiation."
Stressing the massive size of the NAFTA market -- encompassing nearly 500 million consumers and a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of more than $21 trillion -- Freeland said, "Canada is prepared to take the time that it takes to get it right."
In the newspaper interview, Trump also renewed a threat made during his 2016 presidential run: "If we don't make the right deal, I will terminate NAFTA."
On Wednesday, a government source told AFP that Canada was bracing for the possible imminent US withdrawal from the tripartite trade pact. "We're prepared for that possibility," the official said.
Such an announcement by Trump would trigger a six-month countdown to the US exit from NAFTA.