Oil Report

EXCLUSIVE-Three sides agree on seven rounds of NAFTA talks -sources

MEXICO CITY/OTTAWA, July 19 (Reuters) - U.S., Mexican and Canadian trade officials plan to hold seven rounds of talks at three-week intervals in a bid to wrap up the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) rapidly, Mexican sources familiar with the situation said.

If successful, such a tight schedule could allow talks to finish by early next year, lowering the risk that the process could be politicized by Mexico’s July 2018 presidential election.

The two Mexican officials, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the three nations had agreed on the seven round time timetable with three-week intervals.

One of the Mexican officials said the aim was to conclude the NAFTA talks before the election campaign was in full swing.

Negotiations to upgrade the accord that underpins over a trillion dollars of trilateral trade between the United States, Mexico and Canada are due to begin from Aug. 16 at a pace that was described as “very aggressive” by one of the Mexican officials.

A well-placed Canadian source familiar with discussions said the United States had proposed the schedule, but could not confirm whether an agreement had been reached on the timetable.

U.S. administration officials said Mexico had asked for the negotiations to be completed by the end of the year before the Mexican presidential election heats up.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade czar, Robert Lighthizer, has said he hopes the negotiations could be wrapped up by the end of the year, while noting, however, that he was not prepared to set a deadline for the talks.

Lighthizer, the U.S. Trade Representative and by U.S. rules the chief NAFTA negotiator, said in June that completing the negotiations by the year end was a “very, very quick time frame and we’re not going to have a bad agreement to save time.”

Trump has pushed for a renegotiation of NAFTA, threatening to dump it if he cannot rework the accord to the benefit of the United States. He argues it has fueled a trade deficit with Mexico and cost thousands of U.S. jobs. (Additional reporting by Dave Graham in Mexico City and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Editing by Bernard Orr)