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NAFTA: lots of work ahead

North American countries concluded their first round of negotiations toward a new continental trade agreement Sunday with a statement that suggested major issues needed to be sorted out in the talks ahead.

A joint statement from the three countries couldn't even agree what to call this process: A ''modernization,'' which implies simple changes and is the preferred term of Canada and Mexico, or ''renegotiation,'' the word most often used in the U.S.

The statement used both terms. In a joint communique issued as negotiators left Washington on Sunday afternoon, Canada, Mexico and the U.S. declared: ''(We) launched the renegotiation and modernization.

The next round will be held in Mexico City from Sept. 1-5. The countries will in the meantime consult domestic stakeholders and prepare to table more texts that will form the backbone of a new agreement.

A third round will be held in Canada in late September.

There's considerable work ahead, the countries acknowledged in their statement: ''While a great deal of effort and negotiation will be required in the coming months, Canada, Mexico and the United States are committed to an accelerated and comprehensive negotiation process.''

Veterans of trade negotiations say this is the most ambitious schedule they've ever seen.

The countries are aiming to wrap up a trade deal within a few months, before the Mexican election heats up next spring — because otherwise talks could drag out another year, past the U.S. congressional elections, and into 2019.

''Negotiations will continue at this rapid pace,'' said the statement.



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