Signs of Progress in Nafta Talks but Countries Remain Deeply Divided

The New York Times

Jan. 29, 2018

By Ana Swanson

Discussions to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement moved from stalemate to actual negotiation during the sixth round of talks that concluded on Monday, but a deal was still far from guaranteed as Mexico, Canada and the United States continue to squabble over how to reshape the 24-year-old pact.

Government officials and trade analysts described the mood around the talks as “cautiously optimistic” as Canada, in particular, joined Mexico in offering counterproposals to America’s requests for drastic changes, an outcome that seemed likely to dissuade the United States from imminent withdrawal.

Yet more than six months into the talks, a conclusion still appeared elusive. And tensions between the countries grew as the United States criticized Canada’s suggested changes to the pact on areas including automobile manufacturing and investment.

Robert Lighthizer, the United States trade representative, suggested that Canada had been responsible for the stalled talks. He said discussions were now progressing as the nation recognized the need to protect its trading relationships, though he added that talks were not moving fast enough.

“The reality is some of the participants weren’t willing to talk about anything,” Mr. Lighthizer said in remarks to the media. “Now, they’re starting to realize that we have to begin to talk. I think that’s a reason for guarded optimism. But you know, I’m never really very optimistic,” he added.

Officials from Canada and Mexico sounded more positive about the prospects for a deal. Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal, the Mexican economic secretary, said that the three countries were at “a better moment in this negotiation process,” and that progress made so far had put the countries “on the right track to create landing zones to conclude the negotiation soon.”

Chrystia Freeland, the Canadian foreign minister, said that Canada had come to the table “with creative ideas we believed could move us forward.” She also emphasized the benefits of trade with Canada for the United States.

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