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USA: The NAFTA talks take on a new urgency - by Don Lee

The Trump administration appears to be closing in on a deal on a revamped North American Free Trade Agreement, but is up against a very tight political deadline to meet its goal of forcing a congressional vote on a new pact by the end of the year.

After months of making little progress, high-level trade officials from the U.S., Canada and Mexico indicate that negotiations have been gaining momentum, and analysts monitoring the talks the last several days said Friday that there was a fair chance of reaching an agreement in principle in weeks or even days.

The president’s chief trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, plans to continue discussions with his Canadian and Mexican counterparts in Washington on May 7. They need to close gaps on sensitive matters including trade in autos and farm goods and rules for handling investment disputes.

Canada and Mexico, rather than make politically unpopular concessions, may decide it better to prolong the talks, even at the risk of a U.S. withdrawal from NAFTA, as President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened.

Moreover, Mr. Trump’s practice of lumping different issues together for bargaining leverage has increased uncertainties about the fate of negotiations.

Last month, Mr. Trump gave an exemption to Canada and Mexico on hefty steel and aluminum tariffs, but only until May 1, saying what happens afterward would depend on how rewriting NAFTA comes along.

On Monday, Mr. Trump suggested that a NAFTA overhaul should include another one of his goals, tighter control of people entering from the southern border.

“Mexico, whose laws on immigration are very tough, must stop people from going through Mexico and into the U.S.,” the president said on Twitter. “We may make this a condition of the new NAFTA agreement.”

Read more: The NAFTA talks take on a new urgency | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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