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Top trade officials skip 5th round of Nafta talks

As officials for the U.S., Canada and Mexico convene in Mexico City this week for talks to remake the North American Free Trade Agreement, the countries’ top trade officials will stay home, leaving their working-level teams to dig into the most difficult issues.
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As officials for the U.S., Canada and Mexico convene in Mexico City this week for talks to remake the North American Free Trade Agreement, the countries’ top trade officials will stay home, leaving their working-level teams to dig into the most difficult issues.

Their absence captures the difficult state of the Nafta talks at the moment: Still in the technical phases, with Mexico and Canada digesting contentious U.S. proposals like stricter rules for the proportion of a vehicle’s components that must originate in North America, and in the U.S., to avoid tariffs.

Officials had originally hoped to complete the talks before year’s end, but later moved that target to next March. Even then, there is little evidence they are making enough progress to reach that objective—and little hope of a breakthrough any time soon. Canada is digging in its heels, and Mexico, while adopting a more conciliatory tone, says it won’t agree to anything that restricts trade.

President Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw from the 23-year-old pact if the two other countries don’t make concessions. On a swing through Asian countries this month, he issued a new rebuke to the idea of multilateral trade deals like Nafta.

An expanded version of this report appears at WSJ.com.

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