April 12, 2018 / 6:33 PM / 13 days ago

U.S. trade chief Lighthizer cancels trip to summit in Peru

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has canceled his attendance at the Summit of the Americas in Peru starting on Friday, a USTR spokeswoman said on Thursday, after President Donald Trump pulled out of the meeting earlier this week.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer speaks during a meeting hosted by U.S. President Donald Trump with governors and members of Congress at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The move will leave Lighthizer’s two NAFTA counterparts, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, to meet without him in Lima.

The three had been expected to discuss the progress of talks to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement at the end of a high-level negotiating round in Washington this week.

USTR spokeswoman Emily Davis said that Lighthizer will send Deputy USTR C.J. Mahoney to Lima in his place “due to a change in Ambassador Lighthizer’s schedule.”

White House officials declined to elaborate on the sudden change. Lighthizer had been scheduled to attend this summit as recently as Wednesday.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who is going in place of Trump, will meet separately with four leaders of major economies in the region – Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Peru, according to White House officials.

But Pence is not scheduled to meet with Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto, who ordered a review of all forms of Mexican cooperation with the United States in a sign of mounting frustration over Trump’s antagonistic attitude toward Mexico.

Guajardo will still travel to Lima on Thursday with Pena Nieto, Mexico’s Economy Ministry said. Freeland was also expected to attend the summit with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Davis declined to say when Lighthizer would next meet with Guajardo and Freeland.

In recent weeks, Lighthizer had been pushing for the three ministers to reach a deal in principle, and said in late March he believed that could be possible “in the next little bit.”

Mexican and Canadian officials have been more cautious. Guajardo said on Monday the three countries were “weeks away” from an agreement in principle, but added there was an 80 percent chance of one by early May.

Sources close to the talks have said the discussions on autos content rules have not advanced far enough for a deal. Details were still coming together this week on a U.S. proposal aimed at shifting production of high-value automotive components such as engines to high-wage areas.

Mahoney, one of three new deputies to Lighthizer at USTR, was sworn into office on March 13. The former international arbitration lawyer is in charge of USTR negotiations in Africa, China and the Western Hemisphere.

Reporting by David Lawder and Roberta Rampton in Washington, Dave Graham in Mexico City and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

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