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US says hopes to reach new NAFTA accord next month

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Washington (AFP)

The United States, Canada and Mexico could conclude talks to remake the North American Free Trade Agreement as soon as next month, the lead US trade negotiator said Thursday.

The remarks follow Wednesday's joint declaration of a pause in trade hostilities between the United States and the European Union, raising the possibility of closing two fronts in President Donald Trump's global trade offensive.

The three North American trading partners could reach "some kind of conclusion during the course of August," US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told a Senate committee.

He said "that's not an unreasonable timeframe if everybody wants to get it done," and would allow Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto to sign the new deal before he leaves office December 1.

"That's what our hope is," Lighthizer said.

Lighthizer is due to meet later Thursday with Mexico's economy minister Ildefonso Guajardo and representatives of Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Lighthizer suggested he still favored a so-called sunset clause in US trade agreements, requiring parties to renew them every five years.

US insistence on the sunset provision helped derail the NAFTA talks earlier this year after both Canadian and Mexican officials rejected it outright.

Lighthizer also faced stiff questioning from senators anxious to know how much longer Trump's trade confrontations would last, citing farmers and manufacturers suffering from trading partners' retaliation.

Lighthizer said he believed the United States faced a more intractable problem.

"I think directionally we're going to have a problem with China that's going to take years," Lighthizer said.

"That's not to say all we're doing will be in place all that time."

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