Clock ticks as NAFTA revamp talks to resume May 7

Mexican Economy Minister Ildelfonso Guajardo met with his Canadian and US counterparts in Washington this week trying to break the NAFTA deadlock

Washington (AFP) – US, Canadian and Mexican trade ministers will meet again May 7 trying to finalize an agreement to revamp their 24-year-old free trade pact, officials confirmed on Friday.

US President Donald Trump triggered renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement last year after labeling it a “disaster” that has destroyed US jobs. 

He has repeatedly threatened to leave the pact if a satisfactory deal is not reached.

“Technical talks will continue in coming days, remotely and in person,” according to a statement from the Mexican delegation. “The ministers will resume the process May 7.”

Ministers and other officials have been meeting throughout the month to clear the way for a deal before the political and legislative calendars in the three countries derail the process.

Also hanging over the talks is a May 1 deadline when steep US import tariffs on steel and aluminum are set to take effect. Mexico and Canada were granted temporary exemptions from the tariffs but those expire Tuesday.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland met in Washington this week to try to break the deadlock on unresolve issues.

Canada and Mexico have balked at American demands to raise US content requirements in auto-manufacturing, scrap a dispute resolution mechanism and implement a five-year “sunset” clause that would allow a party to exit the pact after five years.

The location of the next round of talks has not yet been decided, a Canadian official said.

A USTR spokesperson said the officials had a “productive week” with discussion on issues like rules of origin.

The negotiators are under pressure to reach a deal before elections make signing a new accord politically difficult.

Canadians will vote in provincial elections in June, while the Mexican presidential ballot is on July 1 and the US has midterm legislative elections in November.

Trump’s threats to exit NAFTA have unnerved US industry and members of his own Republican party who say the country has benefited from the pact.