US, Mexico, Canada negotiators making final USMCA push

Washington (AFP) –


US, Mexican and Canadian trade negotiators met on Wednesday in an effort to put the final touches on a regional free trade agreement that can pass muster in the American Congress.

Democratic legislators have been asking for tougher enforcement of labor standards in the agreement formerly known as NAFTA.

Mexico's top trade negotiator Jesus Seade said talks appear to be in the final stretch to win approval for the rebranded US-Mexico-Canada Agreement or USMCA.

Seade said he met with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and spoke to Canada's Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland by phone.

Freeland, who has handled the trade talks since President Donald Trump demanded NAFTA be renegotiated, is on her way to Washington for late afternoon meetings with her counterparts.

Seade told reporters after leaving the meeting that "everything appears to be going in the right direction," but he would not speculate on the timeframe for final approval.

"I feel like we are headed in the right direction," he said. "I have the concrete proposals with me, and I have to study them carefully."

The Trump administration has been engaged in tough negotiations with the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives for months trying to secure a deal that can win the approval of legislators.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday recently that an agreement was "within range," and earlier this month she said she would like to get the accord approved this year.

Negotiators signed an agreement last year on a new continental trade deal to replace the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.

Mexican lawmakers ratified the deal in June but Democrats in Washington and US labor representatives have raised concerns -- looking for stronger guarantees that new Mexican labor laws will be enforced.

Ottawa has said it would ratify the agreement in lockstep with Washington.

Seade said he would travel to Ottawa on Friday for "a more detailed" working meeting with Freeland.

"It's time that we reach an agreement," he said.

Additions or amendments to the pact could be made in the form of a side letter or addendum.