OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada is “very keen” on concluding negotiations to renew the North American Free Trade Agreement as soon as possible, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Saturday, amid signs of progress after months of delays.
Talks to modernize the 1994 trade pact started in August 2017 but have dragged on much longer than expected as Canada and Mexico pushed back against far-reaching U.S. demands for reform. President Donald Trump has said he will walk away from NAFTA unless major changes are made.
In a renewed push, Mexican and U.S. cabinet ministers held a series of meetings in Washington over the past week in a bid to work out their differences. One Mexican official expressed optimism that some kind of agreement could be reached by the end of the month.
“I and Canada are very, very keen to get it done as quickly as possible,” Freeland told reporters on a conference call. She did not answer directly when asked whether the end of August was a realistic deadline.
Mexican and U.S. officials are due to meet again next week to work on contentious issues such as wages and rules governing how much North American produced content an automobile must contain to qualify for duty-free status.
Freeland said she was ready to join the talks at any time but did not give details. Canadian officials dismiss speculation that she is being sidelined.
“While this is a trilateral agreement ... there are also significant bilateral trading issues between each of the countries,” said Freeland, adding that she welcomed bilateral talks between Canada’s two NAFTA partners.
The Trump administration, which complains NAFTA caused hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs to move to plants in low-wage Mexico, wants Mexican workers to be paid more and is demanding more North American content in cars and light trucks produced in the NAFTA nations.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by James Dalgleish and Tom Brown