NAFTA talks progressing but no hurry to finish, Trump says

US President Donald Trump at a White House meeting on agriculture with governors and members of Congress

Washington (United States) (AFP) – President Donald Trump said Thursday that talks with Mexico and Canada on revamping the 24-year-old trade pact are progressing but there is no deadline for completion.

“It’s coming along great,” Trump said in a meeting with legislators and governors when asked about the North American Free Trade Agreement. “We’re getting pretty close to a deal.” 

But he added, “It could be two weeks, it could be three months, it could be five months, I don’t care.” 

Officials in recent weeks have sounded more optimistic, raising hopes for a quick deal, possibly early next month, but Trump’s comments seemed to cast doubt on that accelerated timeline.

Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said Monday the odds of reaching a deal by early May were as high as 80 percent. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland also has touted the progress in the talks.

But Trump said “there is no timeline” for reaching a deal. “We can negotiate forever.”

And he said that while NAFTA is in flux, no US companies will be building plants in Mexico.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer also said negotiators were making progress but reiterated that there is “no hurry” to finalized an agreement.

Lighthizer cancelled his trip to the Summit for the Americas in Lima this week, according to media reports.

Trump also cancelled his trip to Latin America, to deal with the response to Syria’s alleged chemical attack on civilians.

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

But Trump rose to the White House on a tide of economic nationalism and has called NAFTA a “disaster” that has destroyed US jobs.

Canadian and Mexican officials have balked at American demands to raise US content requirements in auto-manufacturing, scrap a dispute resolution mechanism and put a five-year “sunset” clause on the trade agreement.