3-5-18 5:16 PM EST | Email Article
By Jacob M. Schlesinger 

MEXICO CITY -- Trade negotiators from the U.S., Mexico and Canada said progress was made during the seventh round of talks to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement, although significant challenges remain as all three members face elections this year.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said that despite the progress, only six of 30 chapters have been closed. He urged the three sides to move more quickly on the outstanding issues as political headwinds complicate the work of trade officials.

"Now our time is running very short," Mr. Lighthizer said at a joint press conference with his Canadian and Mexican counterparts.

The comments came just hours after President Donald Trump injected new uncertainty into the negotiations by threatening the two partners with steel and aluminum tariffs unless they agree to a "new and fair" version of the 24-year-old pact.

Canadian and Mexican officials have objected to Mr. Trump's planned tariffs, which he has justified as a way to protect national security, since they could be branded a threat despite their deep ties with Washington. Canada would be particularly hard hit as the largest foreign supplier to the U.S. of both metals.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said that as a U.S. ally and the main foreign supplier of steel to the U.S., Canada finds the planned tariffs unacceptable. Her government will take "appropriate responsive measures" if they are confirmed.

Mexico's Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo, in turn, ruled out that Mexico will make Nafta concessions to avoid steel tariffs.

Over the past week, all sides have said that progress to overhaul Nafta so far has been slow, but there has been some headway on several trade issues and a more constructive tone in weeklong negotiations that wound up in Mexico's capital Monday.

Mr. Guajardo agreed there were many chapters still to close, but noted that as many chapters were closed in the seventh round in Mexico City as in all the previous rounds.

But tensions between the U.S. and its neighbors have also been rising on other fronts. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto recently called off plans to visit Washington after a testy phone call with Mr. Trump, who declined to drop his demand that Mexico pay for a border wall.

Mr. Lighthizer said the U.S. would prefer to reach a three-way agreement on Nafta but would still consider bilateral accords if that isn't possible. He noted that Mexico has presidential elections in July, the U.S. faces midterm elections, and Canada has elections in Ontario and Quebec.

Canada and the U.S. are already engaged in trade tiffs involving lumber and aircraft. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau canceled a $5.2 billion deal for Canada to buy Boeing Co. fighter jets, and U.S. officials were incensed by a wide-ranging complaint that Ottawa filed against American trade practices at the World Trade Organization.

--Anthony Harrup and Robbie Whelan contributed to this article.

Write to Jacob M. Schlesinger at jacob.schlesinger@wsj.com


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

March 05, 2018 17:16 ET (22:16 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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