WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump’s surprisingly caustic complaints about trade with Canada in recent days could be setting the stage for a broader renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement than previously advertised.

Irritants like dairy, softwood lumber and drug patents could be on the table in the update to NAFTA, a far more comprehensive package than the minor tweaking the president spoke of a few weeks ago, his administration suggested Tuesday.

Trump’s point man on the file explicitly linked all these individual disputes to the broader negotiation. In multiple public appearances Tuesday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross emphasized that the reason lumber and dairy have erupted as irritants is they’re not properly addressed in the old agreement, which he called obsolete.

Add pharmaceuticals to the list: in an interview with CTV News, Ross referred in passing to a dispute involving Canadian courts’ invalidating patents, and said a good trade agreement would address such points of friction.

“Everything relates to everything else when you’re trying to negotiate,” Ross told a White House press briefing Tuesday.

“Think about it: If NAFTA were functioning properly, you wouldn’t be having these kinds of very prickly, very unfortunate, developments back to back…. If NAFTA were negotiated properly, you wouldn’t have these.”

When it was pointed out that dairy and lumber aren’t part of the free-trade agreement, Ross replied: “That’s one of the problems.”


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