Mexico expects NAFTA talks by late August -economy minister

MEXICO CITY,  (Reuters) – Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said yesterday  he expects U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to tell Congress early next week of plans to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, a move that would produce talks by late August.

Guajardo said he would have more information after meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Vietnam tomorrow as part of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings.

During the 2016 U.S. election campaign, Trump vowed to scrap the 1994 deal between the United States, Canada and Mexico if he cannot adjust it to benefit U.S. interests.

“Probably the notification will be sent to Congress by the U.S. executive at some time early next week,” Guajardo told Mexican media yesterday a day after meetings in Washington with U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and other U.S. officials.

In Washington, Ross declined to predict the exact timing of the notification, saying that there were more consultations with Congress needed first.

In a meeting yesterday, U.S. senators said Ross and new U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer expressed their preference to keep the current trilateral format in the NAFTA talks.

Guajardo also said that a dispute over sugar with the United States could be resolved within two weeks, before a June 5 deadline to break the impasse.

The U.S. sugar industry pressed the U.S. Commerce Department late last year to withdraw from a 2014 agreement that sets prices and quotas for U.S. imports of Mexican sugar unless the deal could be renegotiated. The U.S. sugar lobby wants Mexico to export less refined sugar and has become emboldened since Trump took office. A U.S. Commerce Department spokesman said Ross and Guajardo discussed possible solutions and that they continue to work toward a negotiated settlement.

Any deal, however, would need agreement from the U.S. sugar producers who brought an anti-dumping case against Mexican competitors.

On Monday, Mexico’s sugar chamber said no deal had been reached in talks on Monday to resolve the dispute.

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