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NAFTA survives key round

The NAFTA renegotiation has survived a key round of talks, with the United States expressing some annoyance but hailing modest progress, promising future rounds, describing the trade pact as important and toning down the imminent withdrawal threats.

The week-long round concluded Monday with the U.S. trade czar sharing the widespread assessment of others that the latest talks marked the first concrete examples of constructive dialogue on hot-button issues.

The talks are now scheduled to continue for at least two more months, with rounds scheduled for Mexico City and Washington, before policy-makers confront a major dilemma: what to do during the spring, summer and fall as Mexico and the U.S. hold national elections.

Robert Lighthizer expressed myriad frustrations Monday. The U.S. trade representative said he was unsatisfied with Canadian proposals on autos, calling the progress too slow, dismissing another Canadian idea as a "poison pill" and bemoaning a Canadian complaint to the World Trade Organization, a tactic he characterized as a "massive attack" against the U.S. trading system.

On balance, however, he sounded like a man willing to give NAFTA a chance.

"Some real headway was made here," Lighthizer said.

"The United States views NAFTA as a very important agreement. We're committed to moving forward. I am hopeful progress will accelerate soon. We'll work very hard between now and the beginning of the next round — and we hope for major breakthroughs in that period. We will engage both Mexico and Canada urgently, and we will go where these negotiations take us."

With just eight weeks left in the current schedule of talks, unfolding under President Donald Trump's persistent threats to blow up the deal, the U.S. administration has important decisions to make about NAFTA's future.

The Montreal round represented a new phase for the negotiations. It included a first significant back-and-forth dialogue on autos and other major sticking points. Sources say there were three hours of talks over two days about the autos proposal.

Lighthizer's long-awaited verdict on the latest talks came at a public event alongside Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Ildefonso Guajardo of Mexico. The three held a series of face-to-face bilateral meetings before their final closed-door, three-way huddle.



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