The three ministers leading negotiations to revamp Nafta will get two chances for face-to-face talks this month, including one near the slopes of Davos.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland are due to attend the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, which begins on Jan. 23, the same day the sixth round of North American Free Trade Agreement talks get underway across the Atlantic in Montreal.
Freeland expects to raise the subject of Nafta informally on the sidelines of Davos, spokesman Alex Lawrence said in a statement. The three ministers are also tentatively scheduled to hold a trilateral meeting in Montreal on Jan. 28, he said. The ministers didn’t attend the last two negotiating sessions in Mexico and Washington, after attending previous rounds.
The fate of Nafta remains unclear—U.S. President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan each said last week they’d rather renegotiate than walk away from the pact altogether, though Trump reiterated his threat to pull out. Canadian officials said they believe the odds are rising that Trump will give notice of a Nafta withdrawal. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last week the U.S. delegation will discuss its “America First” agenda at Davos.
The Nafta talks are due to run until January 28, two days longer than the Davos summit. Only two Nafta chapters are completed out of a new deal that’s expected to include almost 30; Freeland has said several others are close to completion.
There’s no rush to reach a deal, Trump said last week in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, adding it might be difficult for Mexico to agree terms before its July 1 election. Canada, in turn, called that a “constructive position.”
“Provided there is goodwill from all parties, we could make some real meaningful progress in Montreal, and that is what I’m working towards and hoping for,” Freeland said in a television interview aired Sunday on Global News. Freeland said a withdrawal notice by Trump would only be “a step before withdrawal,” and there is uncertainty about what would shake out if the U.S. does give notice.
“This would be the first time the U.S. has actually withdrawn from a free trade agreement, so there is a lot of uncertainty about what would actually happen,” Freeland said.
Nafta talks began in August 2017 and have been scheduled through March, with the seventh round expected in late February in Mexico City. Trump had initially wanted a deal by December, though trade negotiations of this scale typically take years.