I'm optimistic. I am confident that we are going to move forward ... "Certainly the environment is conducive to making a lot more progress in the next short while".
His assessment came after a discreet high-level meeting.
President Donald Trump's administration dropped the demand on the so-called rules of origin during the North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations in Washington last week, which included talks between Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, the Canadian newspaper reported.
He cited two reasons for optimism.
David MacNaughton suggested his new-found optimism is based on two developments: progress on the thorny issue of automobiles, as well as a more general thawing of the frosty tone in earlier talks.
First, on automobiles, he hinted that a controversial US -specific content requirement might still be on the table, but said the Americans have offered some creative ideas that build on a Canadian proposal from two rounds ago.
His other stated reason for optimism is the tone of recent talks - which he described as warmer.
While all sides have already extended the negotiation period a couple of times, a loose deadline is starting to draw closer, as the USA and Mexico will be keen to have the NAFTA issue sorted before election campaigns in those two countries formally begin later this year.
But Canada would be willing to meet 24 hours a day, seven days a week in order to make it happen, he said.
There are rumours of a lengthy, two-week round planned in Washington starting in early April. But MacNaughton said the sides have been speaking frequently in recent weeks, both in person and by phone.
"They put some interesting ideas on the table ... which were actually quite creative. To which we sort of said, 'Yeah, we can work with that, '" MacNaughton told reporters after Tuesday's event. Did we get to somewhere where you could shake hands and say, 'We've got a deal?' Absolutely not ...
"We're optimistic. We're hopeful about the timeline", said Flavio Volpe of Canada's Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association, whose group was recently invited by the U.S.to offer ideas for breaking through the impasse.
One autos stakeholder said he's newly hopeful, too.
"Certainly I haven't said that before".
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier this week that Trump appeared to be "enthusiastic" about coming to an agreement on NAFTA.
The Canadian dollar got a boost from that news as well as a weaker American dollar. Lighthizer has two days of hearings scheduled before the U.S. Congress starting Wednesday, where he is sure to be asked about the NAFTA negotiations.