Trudeau positive on reaching new NAFTA deal with US, Mexico

Sergio Conner
May 18, 2018

The nation's top trade official issued a frank and dour statement on Thursday about the state of negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The United States declared the NAFTA countries were nowhere close to a deal in a statement Thursday created to douse expectations that an agreement might be just a few minor adjustments away.

Ryan himself told reporters at the U.S. Capitol that Congress can not begin working on the negotiating law known as "fast track" without a trade deal in hand.

The lack of an agreement doesn't mean the Nafta talks are dead - Mexico and Canada have downplayed the need to reach a deal this week, with negotiators saying a series of challenges remain after about nine months of formal discussions. Mexico's presidential election will be held in July, and the expected victor could take a harder stance against President Donald Trump and renegotiating the trade deal.

It rebuffed an effort from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, and several high-ranking staffers who were in the USA on Thursday urging a quick deal.

Notwithstanding this, major sticking points remain - among the most prominent of which is the United States proposal for a five-year sunset clause whereby the renegotiated agreement would automatically terminate unless all three countries explicitly agree to renew it.

"We're down to the point where a good deal is on the table", Trudeau said. "We didn't get there last week, but we will keep trying to achieve it". Yet those talks have stalled over differences between the USA and Mexico.

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Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch and a supporter of some of the Trump administration's Nafta demands such as a five-year sunset clause, pushed back against Ryan's deadline.

The prime minister explained Canada's opposition in real estate terms.

"A clarification is necessary", Mexico's economy minister, Ildefonso Guajardo, tweeted.

Trudeau used an example created to appeal to a certain former real-estate developer who is now the USA president; he compared the termination clause to building a skyscraper on a parcel of land you might lose in five years.

The Mexicans have been eager to finalize an accord before their presidential election, which is scheduled for July 1.

Despite the pessimistic message, Lighthizer vowed to keep trying to reach a deal.

May 17 loomed as a deadline for a preliminary agreement after Paul Ryan, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, last week said that for congress to approve a revamped NAFTA, an agreement in principle had to be submitted by that date, or congress would not have enough time to debate and approve it before legislative elections in November.

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