Still committed to NAFTA

The United States is stressing its support for renegotiating a three-country NAFTA agreement after comments from an American lawmaker suggesting it was considering splitting Canada and Mexico into separate talks.

"The U.S. objective has been and remains renegotiating and modernizing NAFTA on a trilateral basis," Amelia Breinig, a spokeswoman with the United States trade representative, said in a statement Wednesday.

''With six rounds of renegotiations completed, some progress has been made, but not nearly enough. As we said (at the last round) in Montreal, we all must redouble our efforts at this crucial time.''

That statement came after a moment of confusion on Capitol Hill.

U.S. trade czar Robert Lighthizer held a rare briefing on the state of NAFTA with American lawmakers, updating one of the two U.S. congressional committees overseeing trade.

One of the congressmen left that meeting saying it appeared the American side, frustrated by the pace of talks with Canada, was considering concluding a quick agreement with Mexico — and sorting out a deal with Canada later.

"He thinks more progress has been made with Mexico. And that there might be a way to wrap things up and down and just maintain ongoing negotiations with Canada at that point," said Ron Kind, a Wisconsin Democrat.

"He would not be dissatisfied with just doing a bilateral with Mexico and continuing negotiations (with Canada)."

That ambiguity lingered as three other lawmakers who left the meeting wouldn't confirm or deny what Lighthizer said. The U.S. trade czar, for his part, also refused to discuss it: "You know I don't talk," Lighthizer said as he left the meeting.

Some meeting participants said any talk of splitting up the negotiations might be tactical — to simply up the pressure on Canada to accede to U.S. demands: ''Negotiations are all about leverage,'' said Brian Higgins, a Democrat from upper New York state.

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