Some Optimism, But Much Work Left as Latest NAFTA Talks End

Top trade representatives from Canada, Mexico and the United States are set to give an update Monday on the process of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, while people familiar with the process say a final deal could be pushed far beyond a March target date.

The three nations had tried to complete the talks by the end of 2017, but delayed the informal deadline as they worked to find common ground on several contentious issues.

The latest round of talks in Montreal included work on a dispute resolution mechanism and rules for the auto industry.

The United States wants to largely eliminate the dispute settlement panels and increase the percentage of U.S. content required to be in a vehicle. It has also proposed a clause that would end the trade agreement after five years unless all three countries agree to keep it going.

U.S. Representative Dave Reichert expressed optimism Sunday after he and a group of other lawmakers met with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. He said Lighthizer is “hopeful” while also recognizing “there’s a great deal of work to be done.”

Canada’s chief negotiator Steve Verheul said Saturday, “We’re moving in a slightly more positive direction.”

Lighthizer is meeting Monday with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo to review the progress made by their teams and to make an announcement about the state of the negotiations.

One reason the countries were targeting a March end date is the looming July presidential election in Mexico. 

Another round of negotiations is expected to start in Mexico City in about a month. A lack of an agreement by the end of March could push the process deep into 2018 with a potential break for the Mexican election and similar considerations surrounding the November U.S. congressional elections.

U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the trade agreement if changes favorable to the United Sates are not made.

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