NAFTA talks fail to reach accord

Reuters WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Senior U.S., Canadian and Mexican officials on Friday ended a week of talks without a deal to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement, agreeing instead to resume negotiations soon, ahead of a deadline this week issued by U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan.

The failure to secure a quick deal underscores uncertainty over NAFTA, which U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said “has been a horrible, horrible disaster for this country.”

Trump, who blames the 1994 pact for U.S. manufacturing job losses to lower-cost Mexico, often threatens to walk away unless the other two member countries agree to major changes.

After meeting for barely half an hour on Friday, the top Mexican and Canadian politicians involved in the talks to update the agreement made it clear that big differences remained.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said officials would continue working in Washington while ministers returned home for consultations.

“We plan to meet again as needed, which I think will be soon ... The negotiation will take as long as it takes to get a good deal,” she said after the meeting.

Pressure to reach a deal increased last week after Speaker Ryan said he needed to be notified of a new NAFTA by May 17 to give the current Congress a chance of passing it.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has said he wants a deal in place soon to avoid potential political problems stemming from Mexico’s July 1 presidential vote and U.S. midterm congressional elections in November.

In a statement, Lighthizer said the United States was ready to continue working with Mexico and Canada but made no mention of a deadline.

Friday’s talks were the first involving all three of the top officials in the NAFTA negotiations — Freeland, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo and Lighthizer — since the latest round started on Monday.

Mexico has not agreed to a U.S. proposal to boost North American content for autos made in the NAFTA region, one of the main sticking points. Guajardo said his team tried hard during the week to bridge the gap.

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