March 20, 2018 / 8:23 PM / a month ago

Mexican leftist candidate taps ex-WTO economist as NAFTA negotiator

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican leftist presidential front-runner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Tuesday that if he wins office former World Trade Organization economist Jesus Seade would lead NAFTA negotiations with the United States and Canada.

Mexico elects a new president on July 1 and Lopez Obrador is leading by double-digits in most polls.

Despite being a longtime sceptic of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Lopez Obrador now says he wants to retain the pact, which is a lynchpin of Mexico’s export-led economy.

In a short video posted online, Lopez Obrador said Seade, an Oxford University-educated academic, was the perfect man for the job, and reiterated he did not want a deal to be struck before the upcoming election.

“Hopefully nothing is signed until the after the election ... so there is no mistake in signing something that hurts us, that affects national producers, that doesn’t include the issue of migration, or the acceptance of ignominies like the construction of a wall,” Lopez Obrador said.

Seade is currently a professor and the associate vice president for global affairs at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Shenzhen, according to his LinkedIn page.

In addition to his time at the WTO, he has also worked at the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund, according to the university website and his LinkedIn profile.

Tuesday’s announcement came just days after senior Lopez Obrador adviser Yeidckol Polevnsky, the president of his National Regeneration Movement political party, suggested Mexico’s chief NAFTA negotiator, Kenneth Smith and other officials, could be retained if the talks go on.

However, it seems Seade would replace Smith.

It is unclear what might happen to Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo, the country’s top trade representative.

A member of President Enrique Pena Nieto’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, Guajardo has cast doubt on whether he could continue under Lopez Obrador, but has not closed the door entirely on the possibility.

Last week Guajardo told Reuters it “will depend on who wins the election and if they decide to invite us.”

Mexico has been locked in talks with the United States and Canada since August to recast the 24-year-old NAFTA after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to dump it if it was not changed to his liking.

Officials have said it is unlikely the NAFTA talks will be concluded before Mexico’s presidential election.

Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter and Ana Isabel Martinez; Editing by Tom Brown

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