Nafta Talks Likely to Wait Beyond July Given Full Agendas
(Bloomberg) -- Hopes for quickly resuming Nafta talks following Mexico’s election earlier this month may prove unrealistic due to scheduling conflicts for the top negotiators, according to three people familiar with the negotiations.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is set to go on vacation through July 22, according to the people, who asked not to be identified, while Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland is in Europe this week. When Lighthizer returns, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo will be busy at a Latin American trade summit.
Nafta talks reached an impasse in May after Lighthizer said Mexico’s pledges of flexibility over automotive wages and content weren’t enough. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau then said that a planned meeting with President Donald Trump to potentially seal a Nafta deal collapsed after the U.S. insisted the meeting was conditional on adding an automatic termination clause.
Time is now running out to meet Freeland’s promise that negotiators would "make a real push over the summer," though they could still meet in August when talks celebrate their first anniversary.
"Canada remains ready to meet at anytime, anywhere," said Adam Austen, a spokesman for Freeland. "We have been actively engaged in talks, particularly over the past few months and we fully expect that engagement to continue."
Lighthizer’s press office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, and Guajardo’s declined to comment.
The lack of a meeting between the main Nafta negotiators doesn’t mean that all contact has stopped. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trump adviser Jared Kushner are scheduled to visit Mexico on Friday and meet with Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, President Enrique Pena Nieto and President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
That meeting is intended more as a first conversation between U.S. officials and the incoming president than a chance to reach a Nafta breakthrough, though Lopez Obrador told reporters on Tuesday that Nafta will be discussed and that he wants the trade accord to continue.
Some analysts thought that once the Mexican election took place on July 1, negotiators would immediately get back to work. But current Mexican President Pena Nieto and Lopez Obrador made it clear last week that they will wait for Mexico’s electoral court to validate the vote, which could be as late as Sept. 6, before beginning the official transition. That includes the incorporation of two of Lopez Obrador’s advisers into the process, according to a person familiar with the talks.
Jesus Seade, named by Lopez Obrador as his chief Nafta negotiator, said in an interview on June 26 that he sees a deal as possible between now and U.S. mid-term elections in November, and that the incoming president’s team fundamentally agrees with the nation’s current negotiating positions.
Lopez Obrador is scheduled to attend the Latin American summit in the Pacific resort town of Puerto Vallarta at the invitation of Pena Nieto July 23-24. Other leaders from the continent, including Brazil’s Michel Temer and Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos, are also expected to attend. The summit is focused on bridging the gaps between the region’s historically more protectionist Atlantic economies, known as Mercosur, and the more open economies of the Pacific -- Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile -- known as the Pacific Alliance.
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