NAFTA talks will be three way, say Mexican and Canadian officials

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MEXICO CITY — Mexican and Canadian officials said last week that talks on the North American Free Trade Agreement will remain a three-way negotiation, despite suggestions by U.S. President Donald Trump that he might pursue separate trade deals with both countries.

Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said “Canada and Mexico not only share geography, history and friendship, but also principles and common goals, and we are a team and act as a team.”

Visiting Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said “Canada very much believes in NAFTA as a trilateral agreement.”

“While the ultimate deal will be trilateral … it’s completely normal to have a bilateral meeting,” Freeland said.

Freeland said Canada also opposes a “sunset” clause proposed by Trump that would allow countries to opt out of the pact every five years. Mexico shares the position that such a clause would hurt longer-term investment.

Freeland also met with Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who will take office on December 1, and several of his aides.

Marcelo Ebrard, Lopez Obrador’s choice to succeed Videgaray as foreign relations secretary, said discussions included NAFTA and other issues such as “migration and opportunities.”

In a call with journalists, Freeland said she believes the Liberal Party government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and that of the leftist Lopez Obrador will find “very productive areas of collaboration” on a number of issues, including but not only trade.

“I feel that the strong, effective collaboration we’ve had with Mexico hitherto on NAFTA is set to continue,” she added.

Lopez Obrador earlier had released a one-page letter from Trump in which the U.S. president urged a speedy renegotiation of the agreement.

Trump warned there could be a much different route should the discussions drag on. In the past, he has threatened to cancel NAFTA. Representatives from Mexico, Canada and the U.S. are set to meet in Washington on Thursday to resume the trade talks.

The U.S. leader said in the letter that he believes a successful NAFTA renegotiation will lead to more jobs and higher wages for both Mexico and the U.S.

“Both of our countries benefit from an economically prosperous North America,” Trump wrote.

Videgaray and Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo are slated to participate in current talks, accompanied by Jesus Seade, a World Trade Organization veteran tapped by Lopez Obrador as his future chief trade negotiator.

Lopez Obrador said members of his transition team will act as observers at the discussions.

After reading the letter from Trump out loud, proposed foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard expressed hope that new trade terms can be reached reasonably soon, with all three countries in the agreement.

The Trump administration lobbied in June for individual trade deals with Canada and Mexico after three-way talks fizzled.

Sticking points in the talks include U.S. insistence on the sunset clause that would force renegotiation of the agreement every five years and disputes over parameters for the automotive industry. The U.S. is angling for higher North American content in vehicles and for production to favor jurisdictions that pay more than $16 an hour, which is over five times the hourly wage for most Mexican auto workers.

Trump also wrote that he has directed his team to redouble efforts with members of Lopez Obrador’s team to address trade, migration, development and security, four priority issues for both countries.

“Like you, I believe that meeting the challenge of illegal immigration involves more than just strong border security,” Trump wrote, referring to Lopez Obrador’s professed aim of improving economic conditions in Mexico and Central America so that fewer people feel the need to migrate.

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