“Chief Negotiators from Mexico, United States and Canada will be in constant communication with their respective Ministers and will report on the progress reached in this round,” the statement said.
“NAFTA ministers met separately at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Meetings in Da Nang, Vietnam, and instructed NAFTA Chief Negotiators to focus on advancing discussions on tabled proposals as much as possible," it added. "Given the substantive discussions held between Ministers at APEC, Ministers agreed not to attend the 5th Round so negotiators can continue to make important progress on key chapters advanced in Round 4.”
According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, Jaime Zabludovsky, one of NAFTA’s original senior negotiators for the Mexican government, and now a private-sector trade adviser, said this move shouldn't come as a surprise.
“The idea of having ministerial meetings in all rounds was odd,” he said. “Considering the difficulty of the topics, you need more technical work, so negotiators can present alternatives to their respective ministers so they can make decisions.”
With trade ministers sitting out this round, lower-level negotiators will have the room to parse the technical details of the U.S. proposals, WSJ said.
Nevertheless, the ministers’ absence “captures the difficult state of the NAFTA talks at the moment," WSJ said. "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...Canada is digging in its heels, and Mexico, while adopting a more conciliatory tone, says it won’t agree to anything that restricts trade.”
Currently, the U.S. is proposing a "sunset clause" which means NAFTA would terminate every five years unless all three countries agreed to keep it for another five. Mexico is proposing that instead, all three countries could legally be forced to evaluate the benefits and costs of NAFTA every five years, without committing to termination.
"We're making a compromise that every five years we will evaluate what's happening," Guajardo told Radio Formula in Mexico. But "we aren't putting in an automatic termination mechanism," because it would send a "bad message for investors."
While Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said at The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council event in Washington on Tuesday he expects Canada and Mexico to “come to their senses and make a sensible deal,” President Donald Trump continues to "rebuke the idea of multilateral trade deals," WSJ said.
While in Asia for APEC earlier this month, Trump said, “What we will no longer do is enter into large agreements that will tie our hands, surrender our sovereignty and make meaningful enforcement practically impossible.”
Officials had originally hoped to complete the talks before year’s end, but later moved that target to next March.