Top U.S. trade official sees NAFTA 'breakthrough' in days

Top U.S. trade official sees NAFTA 'breakthrough' in days

Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo plans to travel to Washington on Wednesday for meetings with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, their fourth set of talks in as many weeks, said Moises Kalach, the trade head for the national business chamber.

Donald Trump is suggesting the United States has deliberately left Canada on the NAFTA sidelines as negotiations between Washington and Mexico have heated up in recent weeks.

FILE PHOTO: The flags of Canada, Mexico and the USA are seen on a lectern before a joint news conference on the closing of the seventh round of NAFTA talks in Mexico City, Mexico, March 5, 2018.

"If the USA wanted a bilateral deal - and they don't, they've repeated often they want a trilateral deal - they don't have legal authority. Whether that happens or not depends on the will of the White House".

The end of the tariff exclusions strained relationships with Canada, Mexico and the European Union, which responded with retaliatory tariffs on selected US goods.

Guajardo told reporters that although he is focused on the Mexico-U.S. talks, he remains hopeful there will be negotiations involving all three NAFTA partners.

NAFTA talks are continuing in Washington this week between Mexico and the United States.

"I think the Trump administration is playing a risky game if you have a final deal with Mexico and you present it (to Canada) as a fait accompli", said Daniel Ujczo, an global trade lawyer who specializes in Canada-U.S. affairs at the law firm Dickinson Wright.

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At the Senate hearing, it was unclear how far-reaching a preliminary agreement with Mexico could be. The Trump administration had excluded the countries from global tariffs on the imports after concluding that the use of foreign-made steel and aluminum made the USA dependent on imports and posed an economic threat to domestic steel and aluminum manufacturers.

U.S. officials have indicated that if the deal can be agreed by the end of August it would be possible to win congressional approval for the new NAFTA before Mexico's President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador takes office December 1. And by most accounts, that will be tough to do. Some are optimistic, and think that a deal could be reached by the end of August 2018, while others are realistic, and feel that this bilateral, then maybe trilateral, then bilateral, possibly unilateral negotiation will end sometime mid 2019.

Canada isn't likely to have a major issue on the new auto rules, but is expected to go to the mat on at least two US demands.

They've said Ottawa's partners have frozen it out of the critical NAFTA negotiations as a tactic and have warned that Canada could eventually be forced into accepting a deal reached between the US and Mexico.

Trudeau faces considerable domestic political pressure to stand up to Trump - unpopular in Canada - and his strong-arm tactics to extract trade concessions.

The president has also said he would be interested in signing separate deals with both countries.

Asked about Trump's remarks Thursday, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said federal officials remain in touch with their American and Mexican partners.

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