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Trudeau upbeat NAFTA deal may be close at hand

April 6, 2018  

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The United States, Mexico and Canada are “moving forward in a significant way” at talks to modernize the NAFTA trade pact, said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Trudeau’s remarks to reporters in Quebec City were the latest in a series of upbeat comments by officials in the three countries about the chances of striking some kind of deal soon on the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“I believe we’re in a moment where we’re moving forward in a significant way. Hopefully there will be some good news coming,” Trudeau told Reuters. “We know these negotiations, there are good moments and there are slower moments. But right now we’re having a very productive moment of engaging with the United States and Mexico.”

Mexican officials say that with enough progress, the leaders of the three nations could make an announcement at a regional summit in Peru next week.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is pressing for a deal in principle to avoid clashing with Mexican presidential elections on July 1.

Any such agreement would likely tackle a main issue of autos content while leaving other contentious chapters to be dealt with later, say officials.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland will hold talks in Washington today with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo, a Canadian government source told Reuters.

Freeland said on Wednesday that there was still work to do before the talks could be wrapped up.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on Thursday criticized Trump’s plan to send National Guard troops to the border.

But Moises Kalach, head of the international negotiating arm of Mexico’s CCE business lobby, insisted NAFTA negotiators are not entering into that debate.

“We are staying away from those things,” he said on local radio.

Uncertainty over the future of the $1.2 trillion pact rattled markets earlier this year but that concern appears to be abating. Bank of Montreal is confident that the talks will result in a positive outcome, Chief Executive Darryl White told Reuters.

That said, only six of the roughly 30 chapters have been closed and wide differences remain on topics such as dispute resolution and government procurement.

Canadian officials feel the three governments could produce “a symbolic agreement in principle that signaled they had reached a consensus on five or six key issues,” said a source familiar with Canada’s negotiating position.