Nation & World

A NAFTA deal in May?

Negotiators will try, but it's no sure thing

Bloomberg

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer stands next to a line of trucks that will undergo secondary inspection at the Otay Mesa Cargo Port of Entry in San Diego last year.
Bloomberg A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer stands next to a line of trucks that will undergo secondary inspection at the Otay Mesa Cargo Port of Entry in San Diego last year.

Cabinet-level negotiators from the three NAFTA nations meet again in Washington, D.C., this week to attempt a breakthrough on the trade deal. It won’t be easy.

Several contentious issues remain unresolved after more than eight months of talks between the United States, Mexico and Canada to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. Discussions resume Monday for what U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland hope to be the home stretch of negotiations for a deal this month.

Despite insisting he wants to secure a deal in the coming weeks, Lighthizer hasn’t shown signs of softening on proposals that Canada and Mexico see as damaging to their interests. Guajardo and Freeland, meanwhile, have pledged to stand their ground.

Lighthizer is pushing to get a NAFTA deal to meet deadlines for the U.S. House and Senate to debate and approve an agreement this year. Waiting until 2019, when a new Congress takes over, “changes the whole way you have to kind of construct the deal,” he said last week.

The U.S. official is fresh off a trip to Beijing, where two days of trade discussions ended with China agreeing to keep on talking, and little else. The United States asked China to reduce support for high-tech industries and help cut a trade deficit in goods that reached a record $375 billion last year, according to a document seen by Bloomberg.

As it parries with China, the United States also is threatening to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada and Mexico by June 1 if they can’t agree to a new NAFTA deal by then.

Washington is negotiating tariff exemptions with other allies as well, including the European Union, as part of its strategy to protect domestic metal producers from foreign competition.

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The United States is pushing to reach a NAFTA deal in principle to start advancing it through Congress, which is understood to mean 95 percent of the deal is agreed to, according to a summary of a Canadian government briefing published online last week by a rail industry group.

“We are really committed to doing whatever it takes to get a good win-win result,” Freeland told reporters during a Saturday conference call. “I am not going to prejudge the outcome of the talks.”

Freeland said Saturday she has no fixed departure date from the talks.

The meetings are taking place in private, though Freeland and Guajardo often provide updates to waiting reporters outside the USTR building in Washington, D.C.

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