NAFTA deal unlikely by May 17, says Mexico

Tanya Simon
May 17, 2018

House Speaker Paul Ryan has told the White House that Congress needs a final package to debate as early as this week if lawmakers are to have enough time to approve the revisions ahead of November's midterm elections.

U.S. Representative Kevin Brady, the chairman of the tax and trade-focused House Ways and Means Committee, said there was probably little room to go past the Thursday deadline for a deal and still get a new NAFTA approved by year end.

"It is not easy, we do not think we will have it by Thursday", Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo told broadcaster Televisa.

He even revealed the details of a conversation on the subject between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Donald Trump, who spoke by phone on Monday.

"We will keep negotiating, and in the moment that we have a good negotiation, we can close the deal. independent of which Congress (the current or new) that will vote on it", said Guajardo.

Mexico's top trade negotiator said Tuesday that he doesn't believe an agreement between his country, the USA and Canada will be reached by Thursday's informal deadline.

Moreover, presidential elections take place in Mexico in July, and the expected victor, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is a populist who could take a harder line on NAFTA.

Mexico's peso sank to its weakest in more than a year on Tuesday.

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The three NAFTA partners, Mexico, Canada and the United States, continue to disagree on several issues, he said.

Leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is leading polls to win the presidential race, and his pick for economy minister, Graciela Marquez, said last month his administration would be willing to accept a deal struck before the election.

NAFTA trade ministers failed in intensive talks last week to reach consensus on the all-important auto content rules, agreeing instead to resume negotiations soon.

Among the issues the three sides have yet to agree on is a USA proposal to include a so-called sunset clause that would allow the deal to automatically expire every five years, pending renewal.

More flexibility was needed for a deal, Guajardo said.

Kenneth Smith, the head of Mexico's technical negotiating team, reiterated in a radio interview that from Mexico's perspective there are no fixed deadlines it is working towards.

Irrespective of the May 17 date mentioned by Ryan, there was still time to ratify a new NAFTA this year, Smith added.

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