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 LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerPelosi sounds hopeful on new NAFTA deal despite tensions with White House On The Money: Economy adds 164K jobs in July | Trump signs two-year budget deal, but border showdown looms | US, EU strike deal on beef exports Chinese, US negotiators fine-tuning details of trade agreement: report 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 John TrumpDem senator says Zelensky was 'feeling the pressure' to probe Bidens 2020 Dems slam Trump decision on West Bank settlements Trump calls latest impeachment hearings 'a great day for Republicans' 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 RyanFormer Speaker Boehner's official portrait unveiled Krystal Ball issues warning to Biden supporters Saagar Enjeti: Crenshaw's conservatism will doom future of GOP 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.