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NAFTA Talks Likely to Miss May Deadline
USAgNet - 05/16/2018

NAFTA negotiators from the U.S., Canada and Mexico are poised to miss the deadline this week cited by House Speaker Paul Ryan, the latest blown marker for reworking the 24-year-old deal.

Bloomberg reports that 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, according to three government officials familiar with talks who spoke on condition of anonymity. The trio met at least bilaterally every day last week.

The Trump administration is increasingly preoccupied with its efforts to reach a peace deal with North Korea and avoid a trade war with China. Senior economic adviser Liu He will be in Washington this week for talks with the administration on ways to resolve the trade dispute between the two countries.

Lower-level Nafta talks will continue and could yield a breakthrough and a ministerial meeting, but none has been scheduled so far, according to the people. The three officials said the ministers could meet next week, or later in the month. Chief negotiators are scheduled to hold a conference call early this week to assess the status of the talks and whether a ministerial meeting is feasible later this week, one of the people said.

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, reports Bloomberg.

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.

Whether Lighthizer could seek to notify Ryan by Thursday of his intent to sign, without an actual deal in place, is somewhat unclear. 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. President Donald Trump's trade chief has indicated he needs a deal this month but hasn't publicly identified a particular day.

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