Mexico expects NAFTA renegotiation from May after industry consultations

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico expects to begin formal talks from around the beginning of May on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) following a 90-day consultation with the private sector, the government said on Wednesday.

U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to scuttle NAFTA, which also includes Canada, if he cannot recast it to benefit U.S. interests, raising the risk of a major economic shock for Mexico. U.S. food producers and shippers were also concerned about losing business.

Mexico’s government said consultations with industry would begin on Feb. 1 and continue after NAFTA talks begin, noting that the United States would hold a similar internal process.

Mexican officials said formal negotiations between the United States, Canada and Mexico could not begin before May because of the consultations.

“Obviously that’s the point where you need to draw up clear lines on what the main objectives will be,” Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo told Mexican television.

“At the end of these 90 days, the negotiation to update our free trade agreement will have to start,” President Enrique Pena Nieto said in Mexico City at the presentation of a plan aimed at cutting red tape for Mexican business.

At the event, titled “Made in Mexico”, the government said that from March 1, federal agencies would now have to scrap two regulations for every new one they want to introduce, echoing an executive order signed by Trump last week.

Mexico sells around 80 percent of its exports to the United States, which has been the source of roughly half the foreign direct investment to Mexico in the last two decades.

Adding to commercial and diplomatic tensions, Trump also wants to build a wall on the U.S. southern border to keep out Mexican immigrants, and is demanding that Mexico pay for it. Mexico insists it will not pay for the wall.

Reporting by Dave Graham and Christine Murray; editing by Grant McCool and Chizu Nomiyama