April 3, 2018 / 5:27 AM / 4 months ago

Mexico expects meeting of ministers to decide scope of NAFTA deal basics

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The United States, Mexico and Canada have made significant advances on reworking the NAFTA trade deal and ministers will meet in the coming days to determine the scope to agree on the basics of a deal, Mexico’s economy minister said on Monday.

Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal, Mexico's Secretary of Economy, attends the World Economic Forum on Latin America in Sao Paulo, Brazil March 15, 2018. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

Ildefonso Guajardo told Mexican radio he would travel to Washington on Wednesday for ministerial talks, adding that the United States was looking for a “quick solution.”

He added, “We’ve made a lot of progress, but on the complex issues, well, it looks like there’s a willingness to be flexible.”

Ministers and negotiating teams have been meeting for weeks to try to narrow their differences, and Guajardo also held out hope for progress on NAFTA at a summit in Peru that begins on April 13.

“There will be an opportunity at the Summit of the Americas for the three North American leaders to greet one another, and undoubtedly there could be an opportunity to send proactive messages and instructions at presidential level, irrespective of the fact that there is still technical work to do,” he added.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to dump NAFTA if it cannot be reworked to his satisfaction.

In the next 12 days, there could be “the principal lines of understanding for solving complex issues” though the three sides were “not there yet,” Guajardo said. A longer period would be required to hammer out technical details, he added.

“The ministers need to get working together to get things settled,” said Guajardo, who has held meetings with his NAFTA counterparts, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer since a last formal round of negotiations ended in Mexico in early March.

Guajardo said there was still no date set for another formal round of talks, adding, “It’s clear that, given Washington’s interest in advancing this process, they didn’t want an eighth round.”

Instead, a ministerial meeting in “around two weeks” would decide what form another round could take, he said.

Guajardo said the three were discussing a U.S. idea to have a certain amount of auto production in high-salary areas.

Details of the plan began emerging after industry sources said U.S. officials had dropped a demand for at least 50 percent of automotive content to be from the United States, a highly contentious sticking point at the NAFTA negotiations.

Such a modification could put Mexico at a disadvantage because of its lower salaries, and Guajardo said its potential impact would need to be evaluated.

Besides autos, Mexico’s negotiators aim for steps to improve conditions for its agriculture, textile, aerospace and medical device sectors, Guajardo said.

Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz and Dave Graham; Writing by Julia Love; Editing by Sandra Maler and Clarence Fernandez

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