A Canadian government minister said on Friday that Ottawa might impose fuel economy standards on major carmakers if they did not agree to improve the efficiency of their vehicles by 25% in the period between 2008 and 2010.

Environment minister David Anderson also told Reuters that Ottawa planned to work with individual US states such as California and New York to put pressure on manufacturers.

But natural resources minister John Efford – whose department is helping chair talks between Ottawa and carmakers on a voluntary agreement to cut emissions – reportedly rapped Anderson for “imposing wild threats” on the firms.

According to Reuters, Anderson complained there had been little progress so far in the talks and said one option for Ottawa would be to impose standards using the country’s Vehicle Fuel Efficiency Act.

“My desire is to make sure they (the car firms) know we want to have successful results of our voluntary negotiations,” he reportedly said in an interview, adding: “Because, if we don’t, we will have to consider very soon the Fuel Efficiency Act and measures which (are) regulatory.”

Efford reportedly said he was committed to talking to the firms involved – General Motors, DaimlerChrysler and Ford.

“If you’re going to give the voluntary standards an opportunity to work, the last thing we should be (doing)… (is) to be imposing wild threats or mandatory standards on them (the firms),” he told Reuters, adding: “He is entitled to his opinion as minister of the environment. I’m the minister of natural resources working with the automobile industry.”

Anderson – a committed environmentalist who has not always had good relations with the natural resources ministry – reportedly said Ottawa would be looking for help from south of the border.

“We fully intend to work as closely as we can with other American jurisdictions, which are led by California but which include New York and New Jersey … who we believe to be also favouring a substantial improvement in fuel efficiency which would be similar to our 25% target,” he told Reuters.

Anderson reportedly said the motor industry objected to Ottawa’s demand for emissions cuts on the grounds that it would cause problems in the integrated North American market.

“Well, if we can get California, New York, New Jersey and Canada together you have 100 million people – a pretty substantial chunk of the North American market,” he told Reuters.