Economy

U.S. pushes NAFTA talks pace, warns of political headwinds

U.S. pushes NAFTA talks pace, warns of political headwinds

Participants at the talks have come to expect disruptions by Trump, ranging from his depictions of the United States as a victim of Canada and Mexico, to threats to dump the 24-year-old accord he has called a "disaster".

He was speaking after meeting Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland for a joint event marked by a more cordial mood than in previous rounds, despite major disagreements over U.S. President Donald Trump's plan to impose steel tariffs.

"Now our time is running very short", Lighthizer said at a press conference, standing next to his counterparts from Mexico and Canada.

Round 8 of talks is expected to be held in Washington in April.

Technical discussions on one of the most contentious issues - USA demands for higher North American content in autos - made no progress after the US official in charge of the issue unexpectedly returned to Washington for consultations. He says it incentivizes domestic businesses to outsource for cheaper labor, leaving them reluctant to negotiate on the issue.

Lighthizer's remarks seemed to be another attempt by the United States to pressure Canada and Mexico into a deal.

Trump, however, believes that tariffs should only be lifted once a "new and fair NAFTA" agreement is signed.

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Additionally, the Trump administration has accused foreign governments of misappropriating trade deals after finding China often peer pressures USA companies - notably tech giants like Apple and Google - to turn over valuable trade secret information in an effort to usurp market dominance.

Guajardo urged all sides, however, to avoid a trade war and said Mexico would wait for a US decision.

And above all, his partners in NAFTA, Mexico and Canada, will not be exempt from that decision.

Lighthizer pointed out that the presidential election campaign in Mexico will begin next month.

When asked about the discussions on the rules of origin for autos, Guajardo noted that no trade deal could depend only on the interests of one particular sector.

Lighthizer expressed disappointment that only six of the 30 chapters in NAFTA had been agreed upon after seven months of negotiations.

Uncertainty over the talks, and the potential for a wider global trade war, are making investors nervous.


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