Five days of trade talks wrapped up Sunday with a commitment by all three NAFTA partners to accelerate the process in the coming months.
An early finish to negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement will benefit Mexico, which would prefer to see it done before campaigning begins for next year’s presidential election.
In a joint press release on Sunday, representatives of Mexico, the United States and Canada said last week’s meetings covered more than two dozen different negotiating topics.
“Negotiators from each country will continue domestic consultations and work to advance negotiating text through the end of August, and will reconvene in Mexico for a second round of talks from September 1-5,” the statement said.
The three parties have agreed that negotiations will continue “at a rapid pace,” moving to Canada in late September and returning to the U.S. in October. Additional rounds are being planned for the remainder of the year.
Mexico Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo said the idea is to conclude the negotiations at the end of the year or in early 2018 before election campaigns begin for the Mexican presidence and U.S. Congress.
According to a Canadian analyst, accelerating the talks has turned the process around, putting the tougher issues on the table — including automobiles and rules of origin — first rather than waiting till the end.
That, says public policy analyst Meredith Lilly, is a sign that “the Americans realize that they could be put in a [difficult] position because of the Mexican calendar.”
That calendar means anti-U.S. political posturing could begin early in the new year as parties and candidates come out hard against U.S. President Donald Trump as an election tactic, said Lilly.
But an unnamed source told Reuters the schedule as exceedingly fast, given that past trade deals took years to negotiate.
One of the stickier issues in the talks will be rules of origin for the automotive industry. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has made it clear that strengthening those rules was a priority. They are also the main factor behind U.S. trade deficits, an issue deemed critical by President Trump.