The latest round of Nafta talks is nearing its conclusion without any major breakthroughs or agreements on even the least-contentious topics, officials familiar with the negotiations told Bloomberg News, fueling doubts among observers that a deal can be reached this year.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is scheduled to speak publicly alongside Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland Tuesday Sept. 5 to conclude the second round of talks toward a new North American Free Trade Agreement. Their joint appearance will cap a five-day session in Mexico City.
While negotiators have now initially addressed all major topics and made some progress, they have yet to agree on any major contentious issue and the three countries are far from a deal on any individual Nafta chapter, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss private talks. On some topics, discussion has been only verbal with no specific text proposals submitted, they said.
The talks came after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened outright withdrawal from the agreement. In some ways, slow progress is normal — trade negotiations typically begin with the easiest issues in order to build consensus, agreement and momentum before progressing to resolving the most controversial ones. But the nations have been seeking an unusually quick timeline for Nafta, and two government officials expressed doubt that a deal could be reached by the countries’ target date of December, based on the current pace of progress. That sentiment is shared by many observers and stakeholders who say the U.S. has been slow in detailing its actual demands.
“They can’t possibly finish. The Americans haven’t started negotiating yet,” said Peter Clark, a trade strategist and former Canadian official. Jerry Dias, a Canadian labor leader, said he’d “be shocked if it gets done before Christmas.”
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