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NAFTA trade talks

Thursday, March 01, 2018

WASHINGTON/Mexico City - US trade officials were meeting auto industry executives in Washington on Tuesday, three sources said, as NAFTA trade talks try to make progress on a major sticking point around vehicle production.

The US negotiator handling "rules of origin" over where car and truck parts are made, Jason Bernstein, unexpectedly returned to Washington for consultations with the auto giants, soon after the seventh round of talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement began in Mexico City.

Three people familiar with the matter said representatives from the office of US trade representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer would hold separate meetings with executives from Ford and General Motors on Tuesday afternoon.

USTR declined to comment.

Ford said in a statement it had an ongoing dialogue about the importance of NAFTA with the government, with an emphasis on enforceable rules prohibiting currency manipulation.

A GM spokesperson said: "These regular meetings with USTR happen in the context of any major trade agreement to assure that GM's point of view is heard."

Time is running out to agree a new NAFTA before a Mexican presidential vote and US mid-term congressional elections later this year, and the administration of US President Donald Trump has put forward an aggressive set of proposals that are complicating progress.

Among those proposals is a demand that seeks to guarantee the United States more of the automotive business, and impose far tougher rules of origin requirements for the industry.

Officials have said they do not expect a major breakthrough on the auto demands this round, though some in attendance were encouraged by the signs of greater US discussion of rules of origin, even if that part of the round is now on hold.

Kenneth Smith, Mexico's chief NAFTA negotiator, said he hoped Mr Bernstein would return to Mexico City, where rules of origin discussions were meant to last from Sunday to Tuesday.

"Hopefully these consultations are positive," Mr Smith told reporters, referring to the industry talks in Washington.

Mr Smith said there had been "a lot of progress" on other NAFTA chapters involving telecommunications, digital commerce, technical barriers to trade and regulatory practices.

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