Mexican officials optimistic about Nafta news in coming days

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Juan Carlos Baker, Mexico’s deputy minister for foreign trade. Reuters

GENEVA/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican negotiators are optimistic about the possibility of getting a Nafta deal and are hopeful of progress in coming days, the country’s deputy economy minister said ahead of a second ministerial meeting in Washington later this week.

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“You are going to see hopefully news coming out of Washington in the next few days. There is optimism,” Juan Carlos Baker, deputy economy minister and member of the Nafta negotiating team, said on Tuesday.

“I would say that we realized there might be conditions for getting a Nafta deal,” he said in Geneva, where he met other trade allies to discuss possible responses to US President Donald Trump’s threats to unilaterally impose tariffs on car imports.

Stop-start talks to renegotiate Nafta have dragged on for more than a year, with similar moments of optimism in the past. The talks recently suffered a setback when Mr Trump imposed steel and aluminum tariffs, triggering retaliation from Mexico and Canada, and followed by his threat to target cars next.

Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said sticking points in the Nafta negotiations that restarted between Mexico and the United States last week include dispute resolution, auto sector rules and a US proposal to scrap the $1 trillion trade deal if it is not renegotiated every five years.

Mr Guajardo, who has said in recent days he thought the outline of a deal could be agreed in August, is due in Washington to talk with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer today.

Jesus Seade, the chief Nafta negotiator for Mexico’s President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, told French television on Tuesday he thought a final agreement could be ratified by the new US Congress after the November US mid-term elections.

Mexico, the United States and Canada have been trying to forge a revamped version of the 1994 trade pact since last year at the behest of Mr Trump, who says he wants a better deal for US business and workers.

Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland is not taking part in the current round of talks, as Mexico and the United States try to thrash out an agreement on including more North American content in autos made in the region, and possibly increasing wages.

There are signs Mexico has shown some flexibility since it offered in May to raise the content requirement to 70 percent from a current 62.5 percent. The United States is asking for the threshold to be 75 percent.

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