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Canada, U.S. reach NAFTA deal, Canadian officials say

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WASHINGTON—Canada and the U.S. have agreed on a new North American Free Trade Agreement, concluding an acrimonious 13-month negotiation that had hindered the Canadian economy and damaged relations between the two countries.

They did not immediately release the full details on which the deal will ultimately be judged. The news that they have struck any kind of deal, though, means Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has achieved a long-sought goal: convincing U.S. President Donald Trump to preserve a trade accord Trump has repeatedly threatened to terminate.

“It’s a good day for Canada,” Trudeau said as he left a late-night cabinet meeting in Ottawa, declining to take questions.

Trump, meanwhile, began touting the deal as a fulfilment of his campaign promise to secure a better arrangement for American workers.

“It’s a great win for the president and a validation of his strategy in the area of international trade,” said a senior Trump administration official, saying it includes a “host of provisions that will rebalance our trade relationship with Mexico and Canada.”

The deal makes substantial changes to the rules governing the North American auto industry. And it will affect dozens of other industries and the consumers who buy their products, from milk to medicine.

Canadian sources said the deal would include partial protection for Canada against the auto tariffs Trump has repeatedly threatened to impose. A certain number of Canadian car exports to the U.S., significantly higher than the current number, would be guaranteed tariff-free access. Trump could hypothetically impose tariffs on amounts above that.

The Trump administration official said there would be no substantial changes to the “Chapter 19” dispute-resolution system or the cultural exemption Trudeau had made his “red lines” in the last two months of negotiations.

The Trump official said Trudeau had made a concession on dairy, giving U.S. farmers more access to the protected Canadian market than the 3.25 per cent Canada granted its partners in the earlier Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

“We’ve had a great result for our dairy farmers,” the Trump official said.

The Trump official said there had not been a resolution on the issue of the steel and aluminum tariffs Trump imposed on Canada or the retaliatory tariffs Trudeau imposed on various U.S. products.

The Trump official said there had not been substantial changes on the issue of the “TN” visas for professional workers. And the official said the deal includes a “review and termination provision” on the agreement, but did not make clear what it includes; the U.S. had previously pushed for some kind of auto-termination “sunset clause” Trudeau had not wanted.

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Word of the agreement came after 9:30 p.m. Sunday night, just before the deadline the Trump administration had set for publicly publishing the text of its preliminary agreement with Mexico. That would have started a 60-day countdown to the possibility of Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto signing a deal that did not include Canada.

The current NAFTA will stay in effect until the end of the process of finalizing the merged three-country agreement, which is still far from over. Most critically, the legislatures of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, which previously struck its own preliminary agreement with the U.S., must now vote in favour of the final three-country deal.

While that will not be a problem in Canada or Mexico, the U.S. Congress, which has sometimes taken years to approve trade deals struck by presidents, may prove more difficult. If Congress delays, Trump could renew his threats to terminate the current NAFTA to try to pressure Congress into accepting the new one.

Nonetheless, the agreement between Trump and Trudeau appears to put to rest, at least for now, a primary source of bilateral tension. Trump had grown increasingly critical toward Trudeau and Canada as the difficult negotiations dragged on, and he had warned that he could “ruin” the Canadian economy with car tariffs if there was no deal.

The Trump official said the deal puts “our trade relationships and hopefully our overall relationships on a better and stronger footing.”

The Sunday deal followed a weekend scramble in Ottawa and Washington. Trudeau’s top officials huddled in his office into the night on Saturday and Sunday. Trudeau arrived on Sunday night and later convened a meeting of his cabinet around 10 p.m.

Read more:

In 12 steps, how troubled NAFTA 2.0 talks unfolded

Opinion | Trudeau will benefit on NAFTA regardless of outcome

In a joint statement issued by Trump’s trade chief, Robert Lighthizer and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland Sunday night, the ministers said the agreement to be called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, is a “new, modernized trade agreement for the 21st Century.”

NAFTA governs more than $1 trillion in annual trade between the three countries. It guarantees tariff-free trade of most products, facilitates the movement of investment capital and professional workers across the two borders, sets rules governing hundreds of kinds of businesses and provides a system for resolving continental trade disputes.

Economists had predicted serious though not catastrophic damage to the Canadian economy if the 24-year-old NAFTA had vanished, with the losses concentrated in Ontario.

The final stage of the negotiations had focused on a small number of issues on which both sides had dug in their heels.

Canada insisted on preserving the “Chapter 19” system that allows Canada to challenge U.S. trade duties at an independent tribunal rather than in U.S. courts. The U.S. had wanted to eliminate it. Trump budged in the end.

The U.S. insisted on substantially more access to Canada’s tightly protected dairy market. Trudeau vowed to preserve the supply management system, which aids domestic farmers, but had signalled for weeks he was open to the incremental concessions opposed by Canada’s dairy lobby. He made those concessions in the end.

Canada had insisted on complete protection from the auto tariffs. Flavio Volpe, president of the Canadian Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, declined to comment on the details of the apparent compromise, but he said Canadian negotiators had to practical when dealing with Trump.

« The principle of agreeing to a cap based on a the threat of illegal tariff is never good, but the reality of negotiating with an administration that has proven that it will harm itself in order to harm its trading partners means that we’ve got to use some realpolitik, to live to fight another day,” Volpe said.

Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, the largest union representing Canadian autoworkers, said late Sunday that he was optimistic about the deal.

« It is incredibly important that we get a deal that stabilizes the auto industry in Canada for the long term and I’m confident that we are heading in that direction, » said Dias.

Rona Ambrose, former interim Conservative leader and a member of Trudeau’s NAFTA advisory council, tweeted her praise. “A NAFTA deal in principle will help ease investor anxiety, stabilize trade exposed sectors and reassure the world that North America remains committed to free trade. Congrats to Team Canada.”

Canadians, initially divided on NAFTA, have come to be overwhelmingly supportive. But Trump had called NAFTA the worst trade deal in world history, blaming it for the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs. He vowed during his 2016 campaign to tear up the accord unless he could secure a better deal for American workers, and he launched renegotiation talks in August 2017.

The new agreement includes substantially altered rules on automotive manufacturing. The U.S. pushed for a series of changes the Trump administration believes will wrest some jobs back to the U.S. from Mexico and overseas.

According to U.S. and Mexican government reports, a car will qualify for tariff-free treatment only if 75 per cent of its contents are made in North America, up from 62.5 per cent in the current NAFTA. And at least 40 per cent of the contents must be produced by workers earning at least $16 (U.S.) per hour, more than three times the wage of the average Mexican autoworker.

The negotiations involved two basic categories: modernization and renegotiation. The modernization track, in which the three countries worked to update an outdated agreement that was finalized before the advent of the internet economy, proceeded smoothly. The renegotiation track was far more difficult. Canada and the U.S. clashed over several U.S. proposals.

Among other things, the Trump administration had initially wanted to eliminate Canada’s supply management system for dairy and poultry, introduce a “sunset” clause that would automatically terminate NAFTA unless all three countries decided again to keep it, sharply reduce Canadian access to U.S. government contracts and eliminate the independent dispute resolution system.

Mexico was Trump’s chief NAFTA target during his election campaign. But it was Canada that drew most of his administration’s public ire in 2017 and 2018.

The Canadian government tried to work around Trump while also seeking to avoid his anger. Trudeau launched an unconventional diplomatic blitz in support of the agreement, dispatching ministers around the U.S. to attempt to build alliances with trade-friendly lawmakers at all levels of government.

Canada was joined in its pro-NAFTA pressure by the main American business lobby groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and by much of the Republican congressional caucus, whose leaders warned Trump that dumping NAFTA would hurt the hot economy. Farm-state legislators told Trump how NAFTA had caused a boom in agricultural exports. Texas legislators told Trump that their state relied on free trade with Mexico.

With files from Bruce Campion-Smith

Daniel Dale is the Star’s Washington bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @ddale8

Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc

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Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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