The Mexican government reported March 5 additional advances in the ongoing discussions on updating NAFTA but U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the parties did not make “the progress that many had hoped” in the seventh negotiating round held Feb. 25-March 5 in Mexico City. Lighthizer also warned that while the Trump administration would prefer to maintain a tripartite agreement, “if that proves impossible, we are prepared to move on a bilateral basis, if agreement can be made.”

According to a statement by Mexico’s Ministry of Economy, negotiators were able to wrap up the chapters on good regulatory practices, administration and publication, and sanitary and phytosanitary measures and also completed work on sectoral annexes related to chemicals and proprietary food formulas. As a result, the parties have now completed a total of six chapters and four sectoral annexes. Progress was also made in the chapters dealing with electronic commerce, telecommunications, energy, and technical barriers to trade, as well as in the sectoral annex on pharmaceuticals, and an agreement in these areas could be reached in intersessional meetings or at the next round.

However, Lighthizer said that after seven months of talks the parties have only completed six of the roughly 30 chapters that are expected to make up an updated NAFTA and warned that political headwinds are likely to intensify if the negotiations drag on for much longer. Specifically, Lighthizer was referring to a busy electoral season in North America that will include the July 1 presidential elections in Mexico, general elections in Ontario and Quebec, as well as the November midterm elections in the U.S. Lighthizer indicated that any outstanding issues in the negotiations must be resolved quickly to “maintain the possibility” of having an updated NAFTA considered by the current U.S. Congress.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, meanwhile, described the progress made in the seventh round of talks as “solid” while acknowledging that the parties have “significant work ahead.” She also warned that Canada will take “appropriate responsive measures to defend its trade interests and workers” should the U.S. decide to impose restrictions on imports of Canadian steel and aluminum products.

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