Wilbur Ross says NAFTA talks could stretch on for months

Source: By Sean Higgins, Washington Examiner • Posted: Thursday, May 3, 2018

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Tuesday the current talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement could stretch on into the fall, suggesting the U.S., Canada, and Mexico remain far apart on some key issue despite their previously optimistic assessments.

“NAFTA, like any trade negotiation, started with easier topics then deals with more difficult, more complex, more important ones. We’re now in that later on phase,” Ross said at a Los Angeles conference . He said he hoped they would be finished by midsummer, but added they could “take until fall, and who know what happens then … As you move toward the middle of year, the political calendar makes it difficult.”

Ross’ comments weren’t a significant departure from prior ones by administration officials, who have always characterized the talks as extremely complicated negotiations. But officials had previously been more optimistic and said they were hopeful the re-negotiations of the 1993 trade deal would be concluded by next month.

“We’re doing very nicely with NAFTA. I could have a deal very quickly but I am not sure that that is in our best interests,” Trump told reporters last week during a White House meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron.

The Trump administration is trying to have talks wrapped up prior to July 1, when the trade promotion authority, a law that allows the administration to negotiate a deal that can’t be amended by Congress, is set to expire. The White House has called for the law to be extended, but Congress has yet to act and it is unclear if it will.

U.S. trading partners in the past have not bothered negotiating with the U.S. without trade promotion authority, also known as fast track authority, over fears any final deal could be ripped apart by Congress.

July 1 is also the date of the Mexican presidential election. The leading candidate, former Mexico City Mayor Andres Obrador, has been critical of NAFTA in the past but has moderated his tone more recently.

The election and TPA’s pending expiration have created an unofficial deadline for the NAFTA talks. “Hopefully we’ll have NAFTA done by then,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told the Washington Examiner.