NAFTA negotiators unlikely to reach informal deal ahead of informal Saturday deadline

NAFTA negotiators unlikely to reach informal deal ahead of informal Saturday deadline

Negotiators in Washington look set to blow past a potentially key deadline today in talks to reform NAFTA. US and

Mexico’s Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo arrives at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office in Washington

Photo: Reuters/Chris Wattie

Negotiators in Washington look set to blow past a potentially key deadline today in talks to reform NAFTA.

US and Mexican representatives had hoped to reach a “handshake” deal—a preliminary agreement that would bring Canada back to negotiations—by this weekend. The date is important because the US Congress needs 90 days to approve a deal, a period that will now extend past leftist Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s (AMLO) December 1 inauguration.

The negotiations appear to be held up over autos; the Mexican team has baulked at President Donald Trump’s wish to be able to impose tariffs of up to 25% on auto imports on national security grounds. Meanwhile, some AMLO advisers want to remove the energy sector from NAFTA’s member dispute mechanism. Watering down the deal’s arbitrator could be amenable to Trump, though less so to Canada.

Despite his populist instincts, AMLO appears unlikely to scuttle a handshake deal if today’s deadline is eclipsed. He is eager to resolve the issue and his transition team is working alongside the current negotiators. However, the agreement will have to be acceptable to Canada. Renewed trilateral talks could give rise to new roadblocks, like AMLO’s volatility.

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