Lighthizer says NAFTA countries are 'nowhere' near reaching a deal

Lighthizer says NAFTA countries are 'nowhere' near reaching a deal
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The nation’s top trade official issued a frank and dour statement on Thursday about the state of negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerBob LighthizerBiden moves to undo Trump trade legacy with EU deal Whiskey, workers and friends caught in the trade dispute crossfire GOP senator warns quick vote on new NAFTA would be 'huge mistake' MORE said that after nine months, the United States, Mexico and Canada are still far from completing an update of the 24-year-old NAFTA deal with a slew of sticking points looming over the talks.

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“The NAFTA countries are nowhere near close to a deal,” Lighthizer said in a statement.

“As I said last week, there are gaping differences on intellectual property, agricultural market access, de minimis levels, energy, labor, rules of origin, geographical indications and much more,” he said.

Despite the pessimistic message, Lighthizer vowed to keep trying to reach a deal.

“We of course will continue to engage in negotiations, and I look forward to working with my counterparts to secure the best possible deal for American farmers, ranchers, workers, and businesses,” he said.

President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump defends indicted GOP congressman House to vote Thursday on holding Bannon in contempt Youngkin calls for investigation into Loudoun County School Board amid sexual assault allegations MORE has called NAFTA a disaster that needed a total overhaul so it would provide more benefits to the United States. 

During the past several weeks, top trade officials from all three countries have regularly met in Washington to work through some of those tougher issues.

High-level talks continued on Thursday among the three countries but the going remained slow toward an overhaul of the NAFTA deal.

The forecast had dimmed in recent days with pressure building from Congress to produce a deal this week so lawmakers will have enough time under fast-track rules to ratify an updated NAFTA this year.

Without a deal on the table, action likely shifts to the next Congress.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJuan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge MORE (R-Wis.) said Thursday that while he needed the NAFTA deal on Capitol Hill soon, there may be a few weeks of "wiggle room" for a deal to be considered by the current Congress.

“Will there be a deal? I don’t know,” Ryan said.

As negotiations have plodded on, Canada has sounded a more optimistic tone than Mexico.

Earlier in the day, David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, told reporters that the three nations were edging closer to a deal.

“There’s still some tough issues, but do we really want to kick this down the road and miss the opportunity to do a lot of the good work?," MacNaughton said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday that the three nations were getting closer to inking an agreement and they had a decent deal on the table on autos during an event at the Economic Club in New York.

But Trudeau said the main reason Canada is holding off on a deal is Lighthizer’s push for a five-year sunset clause.

"I'm confident in saying that we have found a proposal that is broadly acceptable to the three partners and our industries on the auto side of things," he said, according to news reports.

Mexico’s economy minister Ildefonso Guajardo tweeted on Thursday that Trudeau's remarks needed clarification, saying that any renegotiated NAFTA “that implies losses of existing Mexican jobs is unacceptable.”

He was likely referring to the auto agreement, which could cause job losses in his country. 

On Tuesday, Guajardo had said the chances of getting an agreement any time soon were fading.

“We will keep negotiating, and in the moment that we have a good negotiation, we can close the deal ... independent of which Congress (the current or new) that will vote on it,” he said on Televisa.