Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland leaves the stage with United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, right, and Mexico's Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarrea after delivering statements to the media during the sixth round of negotiations for a new North American Free Trade Agreement in Montreal on January 29, 2018. (Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Freeland is in Washington for intensive NAFTA talks

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland is in Washington today in an intensified push to complete negotiations over the renewed North American Free Trade Agreement.

“We have had some very energetic and productive conversations,” Freeland told reporters on the steps of the U.S. Trade Representative’s office following meetings with her counterparts. “We are certainly in a more intense period of negotiations, and we are making good progress.”

This week’s talks are set to be the broadest and biggest since the final official negotiating round in Mexico City in early March, Bloomberg reports. Topics include automotive rules, agriculture, and legal and institutional matters such as dispute settlement mechanisms.

The automotive industry rules have emerged as the centrepiece of the new NAFTA deal as Canadian, Mexican and U.S. negotiators are trying to hammer out a new NAFTA deal, Freeland said last week.

Freeland said she and her negotiating partners, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Mexico’s Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarrea, are now down to the finest details on auto rules of origin, which she described as “the heart of this negotiation.”

Officials from Mexico and the U.S. are saying a new deal is likely within weeks, although Canadian officials have resisted being pegged down on a timeline, insisting that their goal is to negotiate “a good deal, not any deal.”

Nevertheless, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has acknowledged that the three North American neighbours are working against the clock.

“As I’ve said a number of times, we recognize the timelines that are in play, particularly, for Mexico with a presidential election that is well on its way as well as pressure from the United States around this fall’s midterm elections,” Trudeau told reporters last week. “We’ve seen an opportunity to make significant progress on the NAFTA file, we are making sure that we’re engaging in a way that is as fulsome and comprehensive as possible.”

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