Washington: US and Mexican negotiators are making progress and could resolve remaining issues to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) by next week, Mexico’s Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said Friday.
Once the two nations iron out the pending differences, Canada could then rejoin the discussions, he told reporters following a meeting with US trade officials.
The development raised hopes that a year’s worth of sometimes fraught negotiations could reach a successful outcome by the end of the year.
“Hopefully we will be able to close up no later than the middle of the week the remaining issues and probably there will be space to start the trilateral,” Guajardo said a day after the one-year anniversary of the talks’ start.
Guajardo has been leading a delegation to Washington for four straight weeks to try to conclude a deal to rewrite Nafta in time to be signed before a new government takes office in Mexico in December.
He said technical discussions would continue Monday and that he would return Tuesday to continue the high level talks.
But there remain “a couple of things that have to be settled,” including the US demand for a “sunset clause” that would end the trade pact after five years unless it was reauthorised.
“There is no breakthrough until everything is finished.”
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Thursday he hoped to get a breakthrough with Mexico in the coming days.
But President Donald Trump on Thursday said he was in “no rush” to conclude a deal and reiterated that “Nafta has been a disaster for our country.”
The US, Mexico and Canada began talks to modernize the 24-year-old trade pact a year ago at Trump’s insistence but the talks were hung up over US demands.
Recent discussions with Mexico are largely over provisions affecting the auto industry, and Guajardo said the sides had made “a lot of progress,” but still needed to finalise details like the transition period for implementing new commitments.
Washington has sought to increase the content requirement of auto parts and components produced in North America in order for vehicles to receive duty free treatment, and also wants a portion to come from high wage areas — which essentially means the United States and Canada.
But Guajardo said, “There are issues that have to be discussed at the trilateral level.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Friday with Mexico’s Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray to discuss Nafta as well as immigration and security issues.
US officials have indicated that if the deal can be agreed by the end of August it would be possible to win congressional approval for the new Nafta before Mexico’s President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador takes office December 1.
That would allow outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto to leave with a major accomplishment for his government.
That also would put the deal in place before the new US Congress is seated in January, which would protect it from the possibility of opposition if Democrats win control of the legislature in the November mid-term elections.