Newspaper article The Canadian Press

NAFTA: As Big Decisions Approach, Ministers to Attend Longer-Than-Expected Round

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

NAFTA: As Big Decisions Approach, Ministers to Attend Longer-Than-Expected Round

Article excerpt

NAFTA ministers attending longer round

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WASHINGTON - The ministers leading the effort to forge a new North American Free Trade Agreement will gather for a longer-than-expected round of talks next week as negotiations enter a sensitive political period with big decisions looming.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, American counterpart Robert Lighthizer and Mexico's Ildefonso Guajardo will be on hand Jan. 29 for the closing of the latest round, which was originally scheduled to take place Jan. 23-28 but will now get underway Jan. 21.

The end of the talks has been pushed an extra day, in part, to accommodate those ministers travelling from economic talks in Davos. There's also an acute desire to make progress in this round, to build momentum in hopes of avoiding some approaching political shoals.

There are no talks scheduled beyond March and U.S. President Donald Trump must choose his subsequent course of action: start the process of cancelling NAFTA as threatened, keep negotiating, or hit the pause button for a few months as Mexico and the U.S. plunge into national elections.

Signs of how the process could become snared in electoral politics were illustrated Thursday on Twitter: the presidential candidate for Mexico's ruling party tweeted his criticism of recent comments from the Trump administration.

Trump said his promised border wall would indeed be paid for by Mexico -- via NAFTA steering profits north to the U.S. Trump's comments were compounded by his chief of staff John Kelly telling Fox News that visa fees or NAFTA could pay for the wall.

"The wall isn't just about numbers, but about dignity and respect between our peoples," said Jose Antonio Meade, candidate for the ruling establishment PRI party.

"Let's say it clearly: Mexico will never pay, under any circumstances, for that wall."

New surveys illustrate the challenge, in the hothouse political atmosphere of Mexico's election campaign, for any Mexican government or presidential candidate to be seen making concessions to Trump through the July vote.

Mexicans aren't thrilled with the U.S. these days. International views of the U.S. plummeted last year in a new Gallup global poll -- with only 16 per cent of Mexicans expressing support for the American role in the world in a 28-per-cent slide from the previous year. …

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