Nafta Chiefs Are Said to Plan Meeting This Week Amid Deal Push

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(Bloomberg) -- The top Nafta cabinet officials from the U.S., Canada and Mexico plan to meet this week amid an accelerated push to reach a preliminary deal, according to three people familiar with the talks.

The meeting between U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo is set to take place on the sidelines of a Western Hemisphere summit in Lima, according to the people, who asked not to be named because the negotiations are private. All three have confirmed their attendance.

Mexico Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray and U.S. presidential adviser Jared Kushner, who participated in high-level Nafta talks in Washington last week, also are scheduled to attend the Summit of the Americas and may participate in the trade meetings, according to one of the people. The pair, who have managed the relationship between President Donald Trump and his Mexican counterpart Enrique Pena Nieto, joined trade negotiations hosted by the Trump administration in Washington last week.

The Trump administration’s push to announce a framework Nafta deal this week looks to have fallen short after the American president canceled his trip to Peru to participate in the summit as he readies a response to a chemical weapons attack in Syria. Vice President Mike Pence will attend instead. The summit takes place Friday and Saturday, and Nafta technical talks in Washington are expected to run through the weekend. Guajardo on Monday said he sees an 80 percent chance of an initial Nafta agreement by the first week of May.

The latest negotiating round began Tuesday, with the issue of rules of origin set for three days of discussion beginning Wednesday. Rules of origin for the auto sector in particular, which govern what share of a typical car must be North American-made to be traded tariff-free, are arguably the biggest sticking point in negotiations that began in August.

The three countries are pushing to reach a deal before Mexican elections on July 1, and U.S. midterm elections later this year. The U.S. said it wants the current Congress to vote on a new deal. Trump said Monday the countries are “fairly close” to a deal and reiterated his threat to terminate it. Any country can quit after six months’ notice.

The Mexican economy ministry wouldn’t comment on Guajardo’s schedule in Lima. Emily Davis, a USTR spokeswoman, confirmed Lighthizer’s trip to the city but didn’t comment on his schedule and meetings. Freeland’s press office didn’t respond to requests for comment.

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