Whether the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) will remain a trilateral pact will be known within hours, Mexico’s economy secretary said yesterday.
Ildefonso Guajardo had been scheduled to present the text of the bilateral agreement reached last month between Mexico and the United States to the Senate yesterday, but said his U.S. and Canadian counterparts “specifically requested” that he hold off to give them more time to reach an agreement.
Negotiations over the past month between the United States and Canada failed to yield a trilateral deal but the two countries are making a renewed push to keep NAFTA a three-way accord. The U.S. has set a Sunday deadline to reach an agreement.
The future of a dispute resolution system and access to Canada’s dairy market are among the key issues that still need to be resolved.
“At this moment, there is a very serious attempt to continue advancing in the process of finalizing the differences in bilateral issues between the United States and Canada,” Guajardo said in a meeting with senators.
“In the next 48 hours, we will know if we can go ahead with a trilateral text or will need to find ourselves with a need to put up a text of bilateral understanding and then define the legal actions that can maintain the possibility of a trilateral format.”
Under United States trade law, the text of a new pact has to be published for 60 days before the president can sign it and send it to Congress for approval.
Mexico and the U.S. are hoping that a deal can be reached this weekend in order to give President Peña Nieto the opportunity to sign a new pact before Andrés Manuel López Obrador is sworn in on December 1.
The president-elect said yesterday that he had spoken to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and that there is still enough time for Canada to join the revised agreement reached between Mexico and the United States.
López Obrador told reporters that Trudeau asked him during a phone call Thursday “to intervene and call on the U.S. government to reach an agreement” with Canada. “We agreed to that,” he added.
López Obrador said that there are no final deadlines for the negotiation but ruled out any possibility of amendments to the agreement already reached between Mexico and the United States, which sets new auto sector rules and modernizes chapters on digital trade and labor and environment standards.
“We are not going to re-open the negotiation. That you can be sure of. We’re just waiting for the understanding between the United States and Canada . . . We want the agreement to be trilateral,” he said.
López Obrador also said that he “had information” that Washington had made a counterproposal to Ottawa but didn’t offer further details.
Some United States Democratic Party lawmakers said after a meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer Thursday that they couldn’t support a new NAFTA deal that didn’t include Canada.
“Canada is exceptionally important. I think it would be malpractice, both for economic and political reasons, not to have a major agreement with Canada,” said Ron Wyden, a senator for Oregon and the leading Democrat on the tax and trade Senate Finance Committee.
“I think leaving Canada out of a new deal amounts to the Trump administration surrendering on fixing NAFTA.”
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