Mexico sees '80% chance' of NAFTA deal by early May

Mexico City (AFP) –


Mexico's economy minister said Monday it is highly likely the United States, Canada and Mexico will reach an agreement in principle on a new version of the NAFTA trade deal by early May.

"There is a very high probability -- 80 percent," Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo told Mexican TV network Televisa.

"It will depend a lot on flexibility" on the part of all three countries in the North American Free Trade Agreement, he said.

Negotiators from all three countries have said in recent days they are closing in on a new deal -- though the United States poured water on initial reports that there would be a major breakthrough announced at the Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru this week.

"At this point, we don't anticipate substantive discussions on NAFTA at the summit," a senior White House official said last week.

However, asked specifically about the odds of signing a preliminary agreement by the first week in May, Guajardo, Mexico's chief negotiator, said he was optimistic.

He said that signing such an agreement would trigger a 30-day period to sign the final version of the updated NAFTA.

The three countries began renegotiating the 1994 accord last August at the initiative of US President Donald Trump, who has called it the worst deal his country ever signed.

They are now racing to finish before the talks get sidetracked by political uncertainty created by Mexican presidential elections in July and US midterm elections in November.

The veteran leftist leading in the Mexican presidential race, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has been critical of NAFTA and would likely be a more difficult negotiating partner.

The make-up of the US Congress that will have to approve the new deal could meanwhile change radically after the November vote.

Guajardo said he is currently in constant contact with his counterparts, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.

The three held a series of meetings in Washington last week.

Guajardo said the remaining sticking points include technical barriers to trade, environmental issues and rules of origin for the auto sector.

The Trump administration has controversially pushed to increase the North American content requirement for duty-free cars, and add a new requirement for a minimum of 50 percent US-made content.