The United States blamed Mexico and Canada yesterday for a failure to make progress on key issues during the fifth round of talks to renegotiate the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
“While we have made progress on some of our efforts to modernize NAFTA, I remain concerned about the lack of headway,” U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer said in a prepared statement after the sessions concluded in Mexico City.
“Thus far, we have seen no evidence that Canada or Mexico are willing to seriously engage on provisions that will lead to a rebalanced agreement. Absent rebalancing, we will not reach a satisfactory result,” the statement continued.
His assessment echoes the words of President Donald Trump who has made repeated threats to pull out of the 23-year-old trilateral agreement if it cannot be reworked to his liking.
Ahead of an intersessional meeting to be held next month in Washington, Lighthizer — who didn’t attend the latest talks — concluded his brief statement by saying, “I hope our partners will come to the table in a serious way so we can see meaningful progress before the end of the year.”
The next full round of discussions will be held in Montreal, Canada, in late January.
All three countries have previously undertaken to expedite NAFTA renegotiation to avoid clashing with domestic political processes, including the Mexican presidential election on July 1.
A trilateral statement issued at the conclusion of the latest round of talks said that the “chief negotiators reaffirmed their commitment to moving forward in all areas of the negotiations, in order to conclude negotiations as soon as possible.”
Mexico’s chief negotiator, Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo, was much more positive than Lighthizer in his assessment of the advances that have been made. He said the progress achieved so far meant the negotiation process was 20% complete and that Mexico remains committed to the process.
“It’s not a stalemate. That’s the way negotiations are, let’s not get nervous . . . It’s not easy but the most important thing is to trust ourselves . . . and trust that we have alternatives but [also] be clearly committed with a negotiation that we would like to conclude constructively,” he said.
Last week, he said that a U.S. withdrawal from the agreement would not be devastating for the Mexican economy as claimed by United States Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
Meanwhile, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said that differences still remain between Canada and the U.S., citing rules of origin and the so-called sunset clause as “significant” sticking points.
“I’ve been married for 19 years; when my husband asked me to marry him he didn’t say every five years we’re going to check whether we want to get divorced or not,” she told reporters in Toronto.
Both Mexico and Canada oppose changes to rules of origin, especially as they apply to the automotive industry, with Freeland saying that “the net result would be negative for both of our countries.”
Guajardo announced last week that Mexico would make a partial concession to the U.S. by agreeing to review the agreement each five-year period but it would not automatically be terminated if agreement was not reached, as proposed by the U.S. Canada backed the Mexican proposal.
However, Mexico didn’t present counter-proposals on other controversial issues this week because it first wanted to further analyze the U.S. proposals, Guajardo said.
Among the areas on which progress was made in Mexico City were anticorruption measures, telecommunications, good regulatory practices, e-commerce and trade.