November 27, 2017 / 9:07 PM / in 19 days

NAFTA talks in Washington could reach deal on some chapters: Mexico minister

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The next meeting of U.S., Mexican and Canadian officials to overhaul the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) will begin on Dec. 11 in Washington, and they could reach agreement on some major chapters of the deal, Mexico’s economy minister said on Monday.

Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said that the Washington round, at which ministers will not participate, should register more advances in topics such as telecoms, e-commerce, technical barriers to trade and regulatory practices.

“There are things we can make progress on,” he told Reuters, adding that those chapters could close during the discussions.

Guajardo said the talks would extend through the week from Dec. 11. Two other NAFTA sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the talks were scheduled from Dec. 11-15. One said they could involve meetings before and after those dates.

The talks follow a round in Mexico this month where the three sides failed to make major breakthroughs on the most contentious issues, prompting the Trump administration to complain about the lack of progress.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to pull out of NAFTA unless he can rework it in favor of the United States, spooking investors and putting pressure on the Mexican peso.

Mexican officials had hoped to close chapters on telecoms and e-commerce in the November round.

A NAFTA banner is seen during the fifth round of NAFTA talks involving the United States, Mexico and Canada, in Mexico City, Mexico November 17, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

However, discussions over telecommunications became mired in disagreement over how to incorporate Mexico’s 2013-14 reform, which imposed regulatory curbs on America Movil, the Carlos Slim-controlled company that dominates the market.

A major element of the reform was struck down by the Mexican Supreme Court in August, yet U.S. negotiators wanted the NAFTA chapter to include the original version, officials say.

Guajardo said he was confident that agreement could be reached in wording the telecoms chapter in a way that applied the rules for all three nations, not singling out Mexico.

“I don’t see it as an obstacle,” he said. “It’s simply a case of fine-tuning on how we express it.”

Mexico has major reservations about a number of U.S. proposals, none more so than a plan to raise the required North American content in autos to 85 percent from 62.5 percent, as well as ensure half the total content is from the United States.

Guajardo said after the previous talks that Mexico would make a counter-suggestion on the auto proposal once the United States had explained the feasibility of its plans.

Mexico made a tit-for-tat counterproposal to one U.S. plan to limit Mexican and Canadian access to public tenders, earning words of grudging respect from the U.S. side. However, Guajardo said that strategy would not work on all the tough issues.

“We can’t project this solution for everything. Because there are things that are deep in our neighbors’ hearts,” he said, pointing to the auto content proposal.

Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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