A deal on a new North American Free Trade Agreement is close at hand but talks to arrive at a finishing point are not easy, top Mexican officials said on Thursday as ministers met in Washington for a third successive day, APA reports quoting Reuters.
Negotiators from the United States, Mexico and Canada have been working relentlessly for weeks to clinch a deal, but major differences remain on contentious topics such as autos content.
Complicating matters, the Trump administration has threatened to impose sanctions on Canadian and Mexican steel and aluminum on May 1 if not enough progress has been made on NAFTA.
President Donald Trump, who came into office in January 2017 decrying NAFTA and other international trade deals as unfair to the United States, has repeatedly threatened to walk away from the agreement with Canada and Mexico, which took effect in 1994.
“I think we are reasonably close. Certainly this has been a very good week,” said Mexico’s Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray.
He said talks would resume on Friday morning.
Still, much remains to be done before a new NAFTA deal is reached.
Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo gave a more tempered view saying there was movement in the right direction but “we’re still in the process.”
Earlier in the day, after a meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Guajardo told reporters: “It is going, it’s going, but not easy - too many things, too many issues to tackle.”
Now underway for eight months, the talks to revamp the accord underpinning $1.2 trillion in trade entered a more intensive phase after the last formal round of negotiations ended in March with ministers vowing to push for a deal.
Lighthizer is due to visit China next week, and when asked if a deal was possible before the USTR left, Guajardo said: “It will depend on our abilities and creativity. We are trying to do our best, but there are still a lot of things pending.”
Although Washington is keen for an agreement soon to avoid clashing with a July 1 Mexican presidential election, the three NAFTA members remain locked in talks to agree on new rules governing minimum content requirements for the auto industry.
Still, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland rejected the notion that discussion of the so-called rules of origin for the automotive sector was holding up the process.
Freeland said the autos conversation was not “log-jammed” but underscored that more work needed to be done as it was a very detailed issue. “This is a week when very good, significant progress is being made on rules of origin for the car sector.”
Freeland said she would skip a planned visit to a NATO summit in Brussels on Friday, and vowed to stay in Washington for “as long as it takes.” Guajardo, too, said he was ready to remain in Washington this week for more talks.