A new era in North American free trade dawned in the dead of night Sunday as a 14-month NAFTA modernization effort between Canada, the USA and Mexico finally came to fruition with just hours to spare before an end-of-weekend deadline.
Canadian government officials and outside stakeholders from industry and labour groups who were consulted throughout a weekend of intense talks said negotiators had made "progress" Sunday on key points that had been in dispute. "The door closes on trade fragmentation in the region", Jesus Seade, trade negotiator for Mexico's incoming president, said via Twitter.
The deal on the table is subject to the approval of the federal cabinet, which convened in Ottawa late Sunday night.
After weeks of hunkering down in Washington, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and David MacNaughton, Canada's ambassador to the US, had spent the day in Ottawa taking part in an aggressive, long-distance, last-minute push to get Canada into the trilateral free trade deal ahead of a key congressional deadline.
On the Canadian side, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau´s office indicated that the negotiations were ongoing and they had nothing to announce.
Robert Lighthizer, US trade representative, and Chrystia Freeland, Canada's foreign minister, both declared victory. At this stage no issue seems too large to overcome, they said.
"Not done yet", said one senior Canadian source at 6:30 p.m.
One of the officials - both of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly - said the discussions between Canada and the USA were ongoing, but that progress was being made.
David McNaughton, Canada's ambassador to Washington, also tamped down talk of a deal earlier Sunday evening during brief comments to reporters in Ottawa, saying he was "cautiously optimistic" but not sure the discussions would be resolved Sunday or Monday. "It's never done until it's done".
But it was a deal with its northern neighbours that proved tougher to reach for the US.
Daniel Ujczo, a trade attorney with the Dickinson Wright law firm who has followed the talks closely, said he expects the U.S. to get more access to the Canadian dairy market.
When talks between Washington and Canada about re-writing NAFTA stalled, the Trump administration chose to move forward with a bilateral accord with Mexico, which was struck on August 27.
It also appears to preserve the key dispute-resolution provisions - Chapter 19 - which allows for independent panels to resolve disputes involving companies and governments, as well as Chapter 20, the government-to-government dispute settlement mechanism.
Initial reports indicate that the revised agreement will allow the United States greater access to Canada's dairy market and addresses Canadian concerns about potential auto tariffs, sources told CNN. Canada also agreed to open up some of its dairy market to U.S. producers. It was unclear, however, whether Mr. Trump had authority from Congress to pursue a revamped NAFTA with only Mexico, and some lawmakers said they wouldn't go along with a deal that left out Canada.
Canada also agreed to a quota of 2.6m vehicles exported to the United States in the event that Trump imposed 25% global autos tariffs on national security grounds, a side letter to the agreement showed.