Mexico on Friday said the U.S. Trump administration and Canada were making serious efforts to resolve trade policy differences after days of bickering, raising hopes of saving the North American Free Trade Agreement as a trilateral pact.
While details were scant, the apparent progress was enough to prompt Mexico and Washington to abruptly halt a plan to publish text of their own two-way trade deal, to give Canada more time to join.
In Mexico, President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told reporters that Washington had made a new counter-proposal to Ottawa, adding that he would keep pushing for all three countries be part of NAFTA.
Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said the delivery of the text to the Mexican and U.S. legislatures was delayed due to a “very serious” attempt by Ottawa and Washington to reach a deal.
“In the next 48 hours we will know if we are going to get to a trilateral text or if we are going to have to put forward the text of the bilateral agreement,” Guajardo said in televised remarks to the Mexican Senate.
Guajardo said his U.S. and Canadian counterparts “specifically requested” a delay in publishing the text.
The Trump administration had threatened to proceed with a Mexico-only trade pact as U.S. talks with Canada foundered in recent weeks amid deep differences over Canada’s support for its dairy market and a mechanism for settling trade disputes.
The NAFTA text, either bilateral or trilateral, is due by late Sunday night to meet U.S. congressional notification requirements to allow U.S. President Donald Trump and outgoing Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to sign the pact before Lopez Obrador takes office on Dec. 1.
However, multiple deadlines have already been broken during the drawn-out attempt to renegotiate the trilateral deal since Trump demanded it be re-worked on the grounds that the 1994 NAFTA pact caused the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs.
Lopez Obrador said there were no final deadlines in the negotiation.
A spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office declined to comment on the status of the U.S.-Mexico text and the talks with Canada.
Officials in the offices of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, did not respond to queries about the counterproposal.
Lopez Obrador told reporters in Mexico City that Trudeau asked him during a Thursday phone call “to intervene and call on the U.S. government to reach an agreement” with Canada. “We agreed to that.”
He said that regardless of the outcome with Canada the language of the agreement between Washington and Mexico City was now final. “We are not going to re-open the negotiation. That you can be sure of,” Lopez Obrador said.
One source close to the talks said Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, who has close contact with the White House, was also acting as an “instrumental” intermediary between Canada and the United States.
Canada’s Liberal government says it does not feel bound by the latest NAFTA deadline, and it repeated on Friday that it would not bow to U.S. pressure to sign a quick deal.