NAFTA negotiators wrap up third day of two-way talks, Mexico on standby to rejoin talks


WASHINGTON: Top North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiators from Canada and the United States (US) wrapped up the third day of two-way talks, agreeing to meet the next day to resolve final differences before a deadline, with Mexican counterparts on standby to rejoin negotiations.

Despite some contentious issues still on the table, the increasingly positive tone contrasted with US President Donald Trump’s harsh criticism of Canada in recent weeks, raising hopes the year-long talks to revamp NAFTA will conclude soon with a trilateral deal.

“Canada’s going to make a deal at some point. It may be by Friday or it may be within a period of time,” US President Trump told Bloomberg Television.

“I think we’re close to a deal,” he added.

Negotiations entered a crucial phase this week after the US and Mexico announced a two-way deal on Monday, setting auto content rules and paving the way for Canada to rejoin talks to modernize the 1994 accord that underpins annual trade of more than $1 trillion.

Three-way talks were already underway at the technical level and Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo was expected to soon rejoin talks with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, people familiar with the process said.

There was no deal yet, said Freeland, who briefed reporters at the end of Thursday’s talks.

Freeland also said, “I had a brief conversation with Ambassador Lighthizer and his team. I had a couple of things to say and we’ll reconvene in the morning.”

Earlier Freeland had said she had a “long, intensive conversation” with Lighthizer.

“We covered a lot of ground,” she had added.

“The atmosphere remains constructive. There’s a lot of goodwill,” she also said.

Financial markets in US, Canada and Mexico have broadly risen this week on expectations of a new NAFTA deal.

The NAFTA deal taking shape is likely to strengthen North America as a manufacturing base by making it more costly for automakers to import a large share of vehicle parts from outside.

The automotive content provisions, the most contentious, could speed a shift of parts-making away from China.

A new chapter governing the digital economy, along with stronger intellectual property, labour and environmental standards could also benefit US companies, helping Trump fulfil his campaign promise of more American jobs.

Trump has set a Friday deadline for an agreement by the three countries, which would allow Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to sign it before he leaves office at the end of November.

US law requires Trump to wait 90 days to sign.

The US president has warned that he could try to proceed with a deal with Mexico alone and levy tariffs on Canadian-made cars if Ottawa does not come on board, although US lawmakers have said ratifying a bilateral deal would not be easy.


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