U.S Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said yesterday that the United States, Canada and Mexico are “nowhere near close to a deal” to update the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as U.S. lawmakers warn that time is almost up to reach an agreement that can pass the current Congress.  U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said there could be a week or two left to reach a deal that American lawmakers can support this year.

“There are gaping differences on intellectual property, agricultural market access, energy, labor, geographical indications, and much more,” Lighthizer said in a statement. “We, of course, will continue to engage in negotiations and I look forward to working with my counterparts to secure the best possible deal for American farmers, ranchers, workers, and businesses,” Lighthizer said.

The three countries have been negotiating for nine months to modernize NAFTA.  Midterm congressional elections in the United States and a Mexican presidential campaign this year have raised the urgency for a quick resolution. President Trump has threatened to withdraw from NAFTA if he cannot rework it to shrink America’s trade deficit and boost manufacturing jobs.

In recent days, NAFTA partners have been holding high-level meetings to assess if a new trade agreement is within reach.  “We’re down to the point where a good deal is on the table,” said Canadian Prime Miniser Justin Trudeau.  “We know that those last conversations in any deal are extremely important, so I am feeling positives about this but it won’t be done, until it is done.”

The issues specifically identified by Lighthizer as areas of difference include a U.S. proposal to open Canada’s dairy market and establish seasonal barriers for Mexican agricultural exports; efforts to get Mexico and Canada to raise the threshold at which duties are applied to goods imported from the United States; and the rules for regional content in cars built and traded within North America.

Canadian, American and Mexican officials have gathered today in Washington to discuss NAFTA.  Canada and Mexico expressed continued resistance today to the U.S. proposal for a so-called sunset clause that would kill NAFTA after five years unless all parties agree to extend it.  Trudeau said the idea is still a sticking point, while Mexico’s Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said it was out of the question.



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