NAFTA negotiators from the U.S., Canada and Mexico will likely miss the deadline this week cited by House Speaker Paul Ryan, the latest deadline missed for reworking the 24-year-old deal.
The existing NAFTA remains in place unless a country withdraws, which would require six months notice. No country has given that notice, though Trump has threatened to do so. On Friday, the president called NAFTA a “horrible disaster” for the U.S.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland aren’t scheduled to meet together in person this week.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the talks in a phone call Monday — with the White House saying that Trump pushed for a quick deal while Trudeau’s office said they discussed the “possibility” of one.
While the ministers will keep in touch by phone, the lack of a face-to-face meeting after such a big push last week would show how far apart the sides remain on updating the North American Free Trade Agreement. Ryan injected a sense of urgency when he said lawmakers need notice of intent to sign a deal by May 17 so they can vote before this Congress ends in December.
Although Ryan’s comments put the firmest deadline yet on NAFTA talks, many analysts have said U.S. deadlines are murky, and that a deal reached later in May or even in June could theoretically get passed. A spokeswoman for Ryan, AshLee Strong, said the May 17 target is due to timelines set out in U.S. trade law, not an arbitrary political date. “This is not a statutory deadline, but a timeline and calendar deadline,” Strong said by email Friday.
Lighthizer cited the House speaker’s deadline to pressure his Canadian and Mexican counterparts during a trilateral meeting Friday, according to two people familiar with the talks.
In a written statement, Lighthizer said talks have “covered a large number of very complex issues” and the U.S. “is ready to continue working with Mexico and Canada to achieve needed breakthroughs on these objectives.” The statement made no mention of any deadline.
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox said Mexico will only sign on to a good Nafta deal, otherwise it could withdraw and expand trade with countries such as China, Argentina and Brazil.
“Mexico is not weak on this negotiation. We have leverage, and this should be understood on the U.S. side — which, by the way, everybody understands how this can be solved except Señor Trump,” Fox said Monday in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “He’s too stubborn. He just wants to win, he wants all the marbles for himself and nothing for the rest.”
The countries have been holding periodic discussions since August. Talks have focused recently on the auto sector, but big gaps remain. Even if the sides agree on auto rules, they remain far apart on other issues such as a sunset clause and dispute-settlement panels. Mexico will also hold a presidential election July 1 and looks set to usher in a new president who could seek changes to anything not yet finalized.