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Some results in trade talks

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September 14, 2017

Mr Trump used the agreement as a punching bag during his election campaign last year and has repeatedly threatened to pull out of it, even after the modernisation talks began. (APP/Alex Brandon)

Trade ministers from Canada, Mexico and the United States say they made progress in talks to update the NAFTA trade pact, consolidating language for some proposals and reaffirming their commitment to complete negotiations toward the end of this year.

A trilateral statement last week, issued by US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo, sought to quell concerns about US commitment to the North American Free Trade Agreement in light of recent threats by President Donald Trump to terminate it.

They announced a third round of talks in Ottawa for September 23 to 27.

In five days of talks in Mexico City, the ministers said their negotiators were able to consolidate language for several proposals and their teams would continue to work on these in coming weeks.

The statement did not identify the topics for these combined texts, but Juan Pablo Castanon, head of Mexico’s influential CCE business lobby group, said negotiators had made headway on areas such as energy, telecommunications and investment, as well as improving conditions for small-and-medium-sized firms and streamlining customs procedures.

It was important for the three countries to show at least some progress from the first two rounds of talks because they are racing to complete negotiations by early next year to avoid conflicts with 2018 election cycles in Mexico and the US.

The NAFTA negotiators were not expected to make progress on difficult subjects such as rules of origin, labour standards and changes to dispute-resolution mechanisms, for which Canadian and Mexican officials have not seen specific US proposals, officials and industry representatives briefed on the talks said.

Mr Trump used the agreement as a punching bag during his election campaign last year and has repeatedly threatened to pull out of it, even after the modernisation talks began.

Mr Lighthizer has adhered to Mr Trump’s line that NAFTA must be rewritten to reduce US trade deficits of about $US64billion ($A80billion) with Mexico and $US11billion with Canada and started the talks with strong demands for major changes.

NAFTA, first implemented in 1994, eliminates most tariffs on trade between the US, Canada and Mexico.

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