August 3, 2018 / 2:49 PM / 11 days ago

Mexico eyes NAFTA breakthrough next week, says Canada joining soon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Mexico’s economy minister said on Friday that Mexico and the United States could overcome key stumbling blocks standing in the way of a new NAFTA deal next week, adding that Canada would likely soon rejoin the negotiations.

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo speaks to the media during a news conference at Los Pinos presidential residence in Mexico City, Mexico May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero/File Photo

Mexican and U.S. teams will work through the weekend to overhaul the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the ministers will return to the table late next week, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo told reporters after meetings with U.S. officials in Washington.

Mexico and the United States resumed talks last week, after a U.S. move to slap tariffs on Mexican and Canadian metal exports and Mexico’s July elections stalled negotiations that began last year when President Donald Trump demanded a better deal for U.S. workers.

“Technically, we are ready to move into finishing the issues, Mexico-U.S. issues, the most next week. There are very good probabilities that we’ll be landing solutions,” Guajardo said in English.

“We are optimistic that we can try to land a deal before the end of August,” adding there were “three critical, specific points” to resolve that he declined to specify.

Another senior Mexican negotiator was a little less bullish about the chances of a deal this month.

“I am cautiously optimistic. I think it can be done, but there can also be problems. We have to see,” Jesus Seade, who joined the Mexican negotiating team last week representing President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Canada has not been at the table in rounds of talks over the past weeks. Some experts say this is a sign of tensions between Canada and the United States, while officials insist trilateral talks will soon resume.

Guajardo said top U.S. and Mexican officials could meet again on Wednesday or Thursday.

Rules for the auto sector, including a U.S. demand for higher wages in Mexico, as well as a U.S.-proposed sunset clause that would kill the deal if it is not renegotiated every five years, have been major stumbling block to talks.

Seade said the issue of the sunset clause could be broached next week. “It is something we have to discuss and the time has come,” he said. “We have said that is not something we can work with.”

Guajardo said neither the sunset clause nor wages were being discussed between Mexico and the United States on Friday.

Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and David Lawder; Writing by Michael O'Boyle; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Phil Berlowitz

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