Negotiators Finally See Progress As NAFTA Talks Move Forward ‘Very Slowly’

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U.S. negotiators are at last noticing some progress in trade negotiations with Mexico and Canada after months of work and six rounds of NAFTA talks.

“We finally began to discuss some of the core issues, so this round was a step forward,” Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. representative, said during remarks after the talks concluded Monday. “But we are progressing very slowly. We owe it to our citizens who are operating in a state of uncertainty to move much faster. We need to modernize and we need to rebalance.”

The Canadian and Mexican officials were also positive about the progress, despite the division still evident over the $1.2 trillion trade pact. “For the next round, we will still have substantial challenges to overcome. Yet the progress made so far puts us on the right track to create landing zones to conclude the negotiation soon,” Mexico’s Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said.

Negotiators still disagree on major parts of the renegotiation proposal, including new rules for car manufacturers, dairy and agriculture, government contracts and a potential five-year sunset clause to terminate NAFTA unless all three countries agree to keep it.

Canadian Minister Chrystia Freeland was hopeful that the talks were on the right track, and that the slow pace is working. “That work, I’m pleased to say, is beginning to bear fruit,” Freeland said.

The three nations promised to renegotiate through March 2018, but some officials are uncertain that the talks will result in an agreement by that deadline, according to Reuters. The three delegations are scheduled to meet in Mexico in February to continue discussions.

Still, some in the U.S. see the latest talks as a good sign. “I am optimistic about the progress made so far in these negotiations and the desire of all three countries to address the outstanding issues,” said Washington Republican Rep. Dave Reichert, chairman of the Trade Subcommittee in House Committee on Ways and Means.

President Donald Trump promised to address trade issues during the State of the Union address Tuesday, and he has previously commented on the slow progress of the renegotiations. “We have to have reciprocal trade. It’s not a one-way deal anymore,” Trump told reporters on Monday.

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Thomas Phippen