After a weekend exchange of notes, top Canadian officials are to meet here today over resuming talks to forge a free trade agreement with the United States.
The Canadian Embassy announced last night that Finance Minister Michael Wilson, Trade Minister Pat Carney and Derek Burney, chief of staff to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, will meet with Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III and U.S. Trade Representative Clayton Yeutter "to determine if there is a basis for further negotiations."
Canada walked out of the talks Wednesday, declaring that the United States had refused to respond to its major aim of the negotiations: the creation of a binding mechanism for settling bilateral disputes that would shelter Canada from unfair trade complaints originating in the United States.
Mulroney proposed the free trade pact 2 1/2 years ago and then watched Canadian public opinion sharply divide over the proposal and his political popularity plummet. He said over the weekend that to resume the talks, the Reagan administration would have to make further concessions on the issue of dispute settlement.
U.S. trade officials, concerned that Mulroney had staged the walkout to blame the United States for the failure of the talks, insisted that the administration had made no concessions in a letter sent to Ottawa Saturday night. Rather, U.S. officials characterized the note as an outline of what the administration is willing to negotiate and as an indication of its willingness to be forthcoming in the talks.
The Mulroney government responded yesterday. Canada's chief negotiator, Simon Reisman, said it would take "a miracle" for the two sides to get back to the table.
The administration's letter, Reisman said, did not change in "any significant way the impasse and the difficulties we enountered last week that led" to the suspension of talks. "I don't have a great deal of hope that the Americans are going to get some sense and some reason," he said.
The pact would end barriers in the trade of goods, services and investment in areas stretching from the Arctic Circle to the Rio Grande. With $130 billion in commerce passing between them last year, the United States and Canada are the world's largest trading partners.