US, Mexico move closer to NAFTA consensus, but key hurdles remain

US, Mexico move closer to NAFTA consensus, but key hurdles remain

The United States and Mexico appear to be making another push to wrap up their bilateral talks.

There's optimism that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo could conclude their face-to-face negotiations as early as this week - and open the door for Canada to re-enter the talks.

In the meantime, Canada has remained sidelined from the talks.

"Since restarting last month, the talks have focused on settling differences between Mexico and the United States that go to the heart of U.S. President Donald Trump's complaint that NAFTA has hollowed out U.S. manufacturing to Mexico's benefit", writes Reuters. He hopes he can reduce the USA trade deficit with lower-cost Mexico and claw back jobs, particularly in the automotive industry. Canada hopes for a swift conclusion when it rejoins talks once those bilateral issues are resolved, she said. The US has been seeking to increase that threshold and to add new mandates requiring a certain percentage of each auto be produced by workers earning at least US$16 an hour.

Canada would reenter the negotiations and have about a week to reach a tri-lateral deal in order to get it signed before Mexico's political leadership turns over on December 1.

Still, foreign automakers with USA plants oppose the move to raise the amount of regional content, and their objections could hamper progress at the talks.

USA and Mexican officials postponed ministerial talks aiming for a breakthrough in the revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement until Wednesday, although one member of the incoming Mexican government met US officials on Tuesday.

Nevertheless, president Trump past year threatened to withdraw from NAFTA if it was not renegotiated. Mexico has publicly insisted it will not agree to a trade deal that leaves out Canada.

The announcement is also expected to include details on when Canadian officials will return to Washington for talks. They expect a breakthrough on autos and some other bilateral issues.

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The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported that the incoming government of Mexican president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador wants energy investment rules kept out of any new NAFTA.

The Canadian official said Canada does not intend to budge on these two issues.

That could mean this country will continue to face US tariffs on steel and aluminum - and possibly on automobiles exported to the States - well after Mexico is freed from the levies, he said.

It's unclear whether the United States may try to make the case this week that there has been sufficient NAFTA progress to trigger a congressional notice period - which means signaling Congress that a deal may be imminent. "Their tariffs are too high, their barriers are too strong, so we're not even talking to them right now". We might close this, not in a matter of hours, but these days. We've been in touch with them this week.

She said all three countries are concerned about rules of origin of cars.

Mexican authorities confirmed Wednesday that a re-designed NAFTA deal with the United States may be "hours away", adding a trade "solution" between the two nations is rapidly taking shape.

Although progress has been made on the automotive question in recent weeks, other issues, including a USA "sunset" proposal that could kill NAFTA after five years and future dispute-resolution mechanisms, remain unresolved.

Politico said government officials plan to announce the two sides have made progress and Trump is expected to attend Thursday's event.

A representative for Lighthizer's office said there was no deal yet and that "major issues" remained outstanding.

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