Mexico on Thursday indicated time was running out to see whether NAFTA nations could agree a new deal in the short term while Canada struck a upbeat tone, saying top-level talks this week had achieved a great deal.
Major differences remain between the three members of the North American Free Trade Agreement after more than eight months of largely slow-moving negotiations launched at the insistence of Washington, which wants major changes to the 1994 pact.
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A source close to the talks said U.S. officials have told Canada and Mexico that May 17 or 18 is the deadline for a text that could be dealt with by the current U.S. Congress. A second source confirmed that those dates had been discussed.
Mexico’s Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said he expected to learn by the end of Friday whether a new deal was possible in the short term.
“I think we will be finding out through the day and tomorrow … if we really have what it takes to be able to land these things in the short run,” Guajardo told Reuters.
Top-level talks between the three members this week hit an obstacle as the United States and Mexico sought to settle differences over the key issue of automobiles.
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U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer wants a quick agreement to avoid running into complications caused by a Mexican presidential election on July 1 and U.S. midterm Congressional elections in November.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said the three nations had “made a lot of progress since Monday … we are definitely getting closer to the final objective.”
Freeland, speaking to reporters after meetings with senior U.S. legislators on Capitol Hill, sidestepped questions as to when an agreement might be reached.
Guajardo told Reuters that “we have suitcases for two weeks if necessary.”
U.S. President Donald Trump regularly threatens to walk away from NAFTA, underscoring uncertainty over the pact. Business executives complain that the lack of clarity is hitting investment.
Mexico has launched a counterproposal to U.S. demands to toughen automotive industry content rules and boost wages. U.S. President Donald Trump blames cheaper wages in Mexico for manufacturing job losses in the United States.
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Many other major issues crucial to a deal are still unresolved, including U.S. demands for a five-year sunset clause, and elimination of settlement panels for trade disputes.
After meeting with Lighthizer on Thursday, Guajardo told reporters that the talks were not just covering autos.
“You cannot think that in a process of negotiations we’re going to solve one item without reviewing the overall balance of the agreement,” he said. “We’re going over all the items. It’s very important to stress that.”