WASHINGTON (Reuters) – US and Mexican negotiators are "hours away" from getting bilateral differences over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) under control, but work with Canada is likely to drag on until Sunday.
FILE PHOTO: Mexico's Economics Minister Ildefonso Guajardo giving a message in Mexico City on May 1
"I would say that we are practically in the last hours of these negotiations," he told reporters when he arrived for talks in the office of US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
After the talks broke out for lunch a few hours later, Guajardo said he still could not explain the victory.
The Mexico-U.S. Discussions focused on drawing up new rules for the automotive industry, with US President Donald Trump at the center of his efforts to revise the 24-year-old pact he says was a "disaster" for American workers.
The two sides have gradually approached a common position, and one source close to the negotiations said there was "little" at the weekend separating the two cars.
Industry sources say they are on the verge of agreeing to raise the regional motor vehicle tax threshold for NAFTA duty-free access from 62.5% to around 75%.
Trump said on Saturday that Washington could "soon" reach an agreement with Mexico, as the new president's chief negotiator in Mexico signaled possible solutions to energy rules and a controversial American "sunset clause" demand.
Since Mexico's presidential election on July 1, bilateral talks have been hampered by the Mexican government's split energy policy.
The team of the leftist Mexican president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has resisted anchoring the opening of the oil and gas sector 2013-2014 by outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto in the new NAFTA.
For a long time, Lopez Obrador was skeptical of foreign companies entering the Mexican oil industry and rejected Pena Nieto's energy turnaround.
Jesus Seade, the chief NAFTA negotiator for the Mexican government, said the issue had been "ironed out" at the NAFTA talks without going into detail. He said this week that it was not a "substantial" affair and that Lopez Obrador's team wanted to review the conditions that matched the Mexican Constitution.
If talks are going in three directions through September, the final approval of the agreement in Mexico will likely be forwarded to Lopez Obrador, as US Congress has to vote 90 days in advance on a new NAFTA once the renegotiation is complete.
Lopez Obrador is due to take office on 1 December.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Friday that her return to talks would depend on how quickly the United States and Mexico could resolve their differences.
Reporting by Sharay Angulo; Edited by Dave Graham and Lisa Shumaker