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In a joint statement issued this week upon conclusion of the first session, trade officials from the U.S., Canada and Mexico outlined an aggressive schedule for future meetings. They will reconvene Sept. 1-5 in Mexico and then later that month in Canada, to be followed by another round in Washington in October.
The accelerated pace is aimed at wrapping up talks by the end of the year, or early 2018 at the latest, to avoid political complications in Mexico’s presidential vote in the summer and the U.S. midterm elections later in the fall.
But it is far from clear how realistic that timetable is, given the ambitious plans outlined by the Trump administration to rewrite major sections of the 23-year-old pact, including the United States’ much-opposed focus on reducing the country’s trade deficit and strengthening its hand in enforcement.
“They’re the ones who said they want more than just tweaking [of Nafta] — and they want it very fast,” said John Masswohl, director of government and international relations for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Assn., who, along with other business groups from all three countries, was at hand monitoring the talks. “You can have it quick or have it meaningful. You can’t have both.”
President Trump’s top trade official, Robert Lighthizer, launched the talks last week in Washington, saying Nafta has “fundamentally failed” and blaming it for domestic manufacturing woes and the loss of about 700,000 U.S. jobs.
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