WASHINGTON / NEW YORK (Reuters) – The top US trade official poured out on Thursday about the prospect of an imminent advance in talks to amend the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) hours after the Prime Minister of Canada issued a positive note.
"The NAFTA countries are not even close to an agreement," US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in a statement, noting the "huge differences "on a range of issues, including intellectual property, agricultural access, work and energy.
Lighthizer said he would continue working to achieve "the best possible deal for American farmers, workers, and businesses."
The future of trade talks between the United States, Mexico and Canada was in limbo as a Thursday The deadline passed to current US lawmakers with a renewed NAFTA after an effort to conclude an agreement in recent weeks.
There was no immediate reaction to Lighthizer's comments from the offices of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.
U.S. The officials say that the negotiations must conclude very soon to give the current Congress time to vote on a final text.
Earlier on Thursday, Trudeau said he felt "positive" about talks to modify NAFTA, while a senior Mexican official said an agreement could be possible for the end of May.
"To be honest, we have reached a point where there is a good agreement on the table," Trudeau told the Economic Club of New York. "It's about the last conversations … I feel positive about it, but it will not be done until I'm ready."
Freeland traveled to Washington on Thursday to hold internal meetings with labor officials and representatives of the US Chamber of Commerce. UU., A spokeswoman for her said.
A Mexican technical negotiating team is in Washington, but there is no set date for the next NAFTA ministerial meeting with the United States and Canada.
Mexico's Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said an agreement could be reached by the end of May, but added that if an agreement is not reached, the Talks could be extended beyond the July 1 presidential election.
For that to happen, the United States and Mexico would have to put an end to what officials say is a deadlock over US demands to increase wages in the auto sector and increase the North American content of automobiles manufactured in the United States. the three NAFTA nations.
Critics complain that the measure is a clear blow in Mexico, which US President Donald Trump says he added low-wage manufacturing jobs at the expense of Americans after the signing of NAFTA in 1994.
"Any renegotiated NAFTA that involves losses of existing Mexican jobs is unacceptable," Guajardo said in a tweet.
According to the statute of the Trade Promotion Authority that would allow a simple yes or no vote on NAFTA, Trump must notify Congress 90 days before he can sign the agreement. The US International Trade Commission UU You have up to 105 days after the signing to produce a study on the effects of the agreement.
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said the Republican-controlled Congress should be notified of a new agreement by Thursday to give lawmakers the opportunity to approve it before a newly elected Congress takes over in January. .
Ryan, asked on Thursday if there was any room for maneuver in the NAFTA approval schedule for Congress, said: "The room for maneuver would be in the ITC."
"I think," he added, "there's probably some room for maneuver in the ITC, so it implies its part of the process, but not an indefinite amount, and that means that time is really essential."
Report of David Lawder and Jonathan Spicer; Additional reporting by Amanda Becker in Washington, David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Sharay Angulo in Mexico City; Written by Anthony Esposito, David Ljunggren and Dave Graham; Edition by James Dalgleish and Leslie Adler