Canada’s top trade negotiator praised Mexico’s trade concessions on autos and labor rights on Tuesday as she rejoined NAFTA talks, while U.S. lawmakers warned that a bilateral U.S.-Mexico trade deal would struggle to win approval in Congress.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said that Mexico’s “difficult” concessions to the United States on Monday would pave the way for productive talks this week as all three countries race toward a Friday deadline for a deal to modernize the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.
“These concessions are really going to be important for workers in Canada and the United States,” she told reporters after meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
Freeland, who later met with Mexican officials on Tuesday evening, said she is due to dig into detailed discussions with Lighthizer on Wednesday.
After being sidelined from the talks for more than two months, Freeland will be under pressure to accept terms the United States and Mexico worked out on a trade deal announced on Monday.
One of the main sticking points for Canada in the revised deal is the U.S. effort to dump the Chapter 19 dispute resolution mechanism that hinders the United States from pursuing anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases. Lighthizer said on Monday that Mexico had agreed to eliminate the mechanism.
Other hurdles include intellectual property rights, such as the U.S.-Mexico 10-year data exclusivity for biologic drug makers and extensions of copyright protections to 75 years from 50, all higher thresholds than Canada has previously supported.
If a deal is not reached with Canada, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said the Trump administration intends to proceed with a separate trade agreement with Mexico.
The Mexican government has also taken that position, even as it says it wants a trilateral deal. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto is keen to sign the agreement before leaving office at the end of November.
A trilateral deal would need only 51 votes in the Senate, while a bilateral pact would need a far more difficult 60-vote threshold, Republican Senator Pat Toomey said.