NAFTA partners wrap up first round of talks

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WASHINGTON: US, Canadian and Mexican negotiators on Sunday wrapped the first round of talks aimed at revamping the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, part of a US effort to cut its trade deficit.
The three NAFTA countries are “committed to an accelerated and comprehensive negotiation process that will upgrade our agreement and establish 21st century standards to the benefit of our citizens,” according to a joint statement.

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The talks opened Wednesday with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer insisting in blunt language that NAFTA must undergo wholesale revision in order to fulfill President Donald Trump’s goal of reducing bilateral trade imbalances and protecting American jobs, especially in the auto sector.

Trump famously denounced NAFTA as “the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere,” and threatened to pull out of the agreement he said has destroyed US jobs. But he eventually succumbed to pressure to renegotiate instead.

“We feel that NAFTA has fundamentally failed many, many Americans and needs major improvement,” Lighthizer said in his opening remarks.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Mexican Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal made clear they view the free trade deal as a success and only want to see it modernized and improved, not weighed down with unreasonable goals.

Negotiations will move at a “rapid pace,” with the next round set for September 1-5 in Mexico, “moving to Canada in late September and returning to the United States in October, with additional rounds being planned for the remainder of the year.”

The timeline for the talks is accelerated given elections in Mexico in July 2018, as well as the US legislative calendar, with seven to nine rounds expected to finish the revisions by the end of 2017.

In addition to revamping NAFTA, Trump last week also announced plans for trade talks with Japan and a renegotiation of the free trade agreement Korea also with the aim of cutting the trade deficit with those countries.

The first round of NAFTA talks covered more than two dozen different negotiation topics “and agreed to provide additional text, comments or alternate proposals during the next two weeks,” following consultations with businesses and stakeholders in their home countries, according to the statement.

Negotiators from the three countries agree on the need to update the pact — which was signed before the internet was a force — including by adding a chapter on e-commerce and addressing the growing role of trade in services.

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