- Henry Romero/REUTERS
- House Speaker Paul Ryan said an agreement on the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, must be reached by May 17 for Congress to vote on it this year.
- Significant issues still must be resolved on issues ranging from investor disputes to car manufacturing.
- US, Canadian, and Mexican negotiators will continue talks Friday.
Time is running out for the US, Canada, and Mexico to wrap up negotiations on an updated North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.
House Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday set a hard deadline for a deal’s outline: Thursday, May 17.
The Trump administration is negotiating the deal under Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA, also known as “fast track.” That gives the administration a set period of time to bring a trade agreement to Congress and pass it with a simple majority vote.
But it also includes a notification period – a required delay between the deal’s submission to Congress and a final vote. The delay is designed to give Congress time to review the agreement and receive public comment.
“As the author of TPA, we have to have the paper – not just an agreement – we have to have the paper from USTR by May 17 for us to vote on it this year,” Ryan told the Ripon Society, a Republican policy group.
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has said the three NAFTA countries are attempting to reach an agreement in principle before the congressional deadline. But Ryan made it clear that there needs to be more to the agreement than just broad strokes.
The deadline puts enormous pressure on the three main NAFTA negotiators – Lighthizer, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo, and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland – to hammer out major issues in just a few days.
Sticking points remain on cars, milk, and more
One issue, which Ryan raised, is investors’ ability to settle disputes with nations within the NAFTA framework. The investor-state dispute system in the current NAFTA allows investors to sue a country if they believe they broke NAFTA rules. Lighthizer is attempting to make the system optional, but it is not clear whether the other countries are on board.
Another sticking point comes in automobile manufacturing. The US wants to increase the percentage of a car’s parts that must be produced in a NAFTA country for the car to be shipped across borders without facing a tax. Mexico, a prominent car producer, is pushing back.
The US also wants 45% of a car and 40% of a pickup truck to be produced by higher-wage workers, while Mexico wants that percentage set around 20%.
Ryan also said American farmers’ access to the Canadian diary market remains unresolved.
There is still optimism for a deal
Meetings to hash out these differences have been ongoing for weeks and will continue Friday.
Canada’s Freeland is set to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Friday afternoon, and the US and Mexico trade delegations are also expected to hold talks.
Given the tight deadline, the three countries expressed varying levels of confidence that a deal will get done.
“We have made a lot of progress since Monday,” Freeland told reporters after meeting with congressional GOP leaders. “We are definitely getting closer to the final objective.”
Mexico’s Guajardo told Reuters that the countries will know by Friday whether it is possible to meet the US deadline.
Lighthizer didn’t give a prognosis for a deal on Thursday, but he previously warned that the possibility of a renegotiated NAFTA passing Congress would be on “thin ice” if an agreement did not meet the TPA deadline.