MEXICO CITY: Negotiators from the United States, Mexico and Canada opened a new round of talks Sunday on overhauling the North American Free Trade Agreement, with the Mexican hosts warning of turbulence but analysts expressing cautious optimism.
Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said the renegotiation of the 24-year-old trade deal is entering a critical phase as the three countries begin their seventh round of talks, set to run through March 5.
“It’s going to be a difficult meeting,” Guajardo told journalists, noting that negotiators have moved from general discussions to “highly complex issues” like the amount of content in automobiles produced in the region that must be US-made.
Adding to the tensions, a planned visit to Washington by President Enrique Pena Nieto has been canceled after
President Donald Trump, in a contentious phone conversation, insisted that Mexico pay for a controversial border wall, the Washington Post reported, citing sources in both countries.
After the last round of talks, in Montreal, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the three sides were making progress, but “very slowly.”
The uncertainty looming over the deal is only increasing as the clock ticks on.
Mexico, which sends some 80 percent of its exports to the United States, is gearing up for elections on July 1.
The presidential frontrunner, the fiery leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has sent mixed signals on NAFTA, saying at one point that he would restart the negotiations and “make Donald Trump see reason.”
Washington has also sent mixed signals since Trump triggered the renegotiation of what he has described as the worst trade deal in history.
While Trump’s message that NAFTA costs American jobs has played well with his base, the US business sector and many big players in his own Republican Party oppose sweeping changes.