Mexico City (AFP) – After three months of thorny negotiations, fears of a breakdown are hanging in the air as the US, Mexico and Canada begin new talks on the North American Free Trade Agreement Friday.
The fifth round of talks on updating the 23-year-old deal will be a low-key affair, with the top trade officials from all three countries staying home to let the technical experts sift through the divisive details at a Mexico City hotel, out of the spotlight.
The previous round, held last month outside Washington, ended with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer trading blame with Mexican Finance Minister Ildefonso Guajardo and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland over frictions that have left the future of the deal in doubt.
“The tone of NAFTA’s fifth round of negotiations will be critical,” the Eurasia Group consultancy said ahead of the talks.
“The rumors that President Donald Trump would announce the US’s intent to exit the trade pact soon have subsided somewhat, but he could very well do so if there is no progress achieved in the next round of negotiations. The problem is that progress depends on the US moderating its demands.”
Trump, who has attacked the deal as the worst the United States ever signed, is pushing proposals aimed at slashing the US trade deficit, particularly with Mexico.
They include a sunset clause requiring all three countries to renew the deal every five years and minimum US content requirements for auto imports.
After the last talks, Canada’s Freeland blasted the Trump administration’s “winner-take-all” mindset and Mexico’s Guajardo suggested Mexico was being pushed to the limit of its capacity for compromise.
The three countries admitted they would not be able to reach a deal by the end of the year — the initial deadline — and extended the negotiations into 2018.
Source: Yahoo News