Officials seek 'wiggle room' in NAFTA talks as U.S. deadline lapses

Pauline Gross
May 18, 2018

The three countries have been negotiating for nine months to modernize NAFTA, and midterm congressional elections in the USA and a Mexican presidential campaign this year have raised the urgency for a quick resolution.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told lawmakers in a meeting on Wednesday that he didn't think a deal could be completed by then or in the immediate term, according to two Democratic representatives who attended the meeting. Negotiators are working to wrap up chapters tied to the modernization of the agreement, which includes topics like the environment, energy, and financial services.

But Trudeau said that the main reason Canada is holding off on a deal is Lighthizer's push for a five-year sunset clause. And if the Democrats do end up taking the House in November - a realistic (if not assured) scenario - the Trump administration's endeavour to get a new deal "that works for everybody, but most importantly... a deal that works for America" could very well hit a brick wall.

Citing American trade law, Ryan had said May 17 was the last day to receive notice of intent to sign a deal for a new North American Free Trade Agreement that could be passed by the current Congress before a new crop of lawmakers change the political calculus.

"The NAFTA countries are nowhere near close to a deal", Lighthizer said in a statement.

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"We will reach a deal when the deal is a good one", he told Mexican TV network Televisa. The current frontrunner in Mexico's July 1 presidential election, left-leaning Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has pledged to stamp his own imprint on the deal, promising to appoint a new trade negotiator to this end if elected.

The United States declared the NAFTA countries were nowhere close to a deal in a statement Thursday created to douse expectations that an agreement might be just a few minor adjustments away.

In Mexico, officials on Thursday downplayed the importance of Ryan's deadline. "We didn't get there last week, but we will keep trying to achieve it".

Mexico's economy minister Ildefonso Guajardo tweeted on Thursday that Trudeau's remarks needed clarification saying that any renegotiated NAFTA "that implies losses of existing Mexican jobs is unacceptable".

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., promotes this year's renewal of the farm bill during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 17, 2018. This takes into account the practical realities faced by companies and investors, which customarily map out their business strategies with significantly longer timeframes in mind; with the threat of expiry ever present, many claim that investor confidence and commercial certainty would erode beyond fix, with serious knock-on effects for all parties involved.

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