Washington | Reuters — U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday progress was being made in slow-moving talks to update the NAFTA trade accord between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, but he held out the prospect of striking bilateral pacts if a three-way deal could not be reached.
“We’re trying to equalize it. It’s not easy but we’re getting there,” he told a group of U.S. small business executives. “We’ll see whether or not we can make a reasonable NAFTA deal.”
Renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump called a “disaster” for the U.S., was a goal he had set out during his election campaign.
Negotiations to modernize NAFTA started last August and were initially scheduled to finish by the end of December 2017.
That deadline has been extended several times as Canada and Mexico struggle to accommodate far-reaching U.S. demands for change, such as a sunset clause that would allow one nation to pull out after five years. Canada and Mexico reject the idea.
At a news conference in Mexico City, Mexican foreign minister Luis Videgaray said he expected the next negotiating meeting of ministers to be held in July.
The Canadian government believes a deal to update NAFTA is still possible despite a U.S. move to impose tariffs on Canadian and Mexican steel and aluminum, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said in Ottawa on Tuesday.
“A modernized win-win-win deal that benefits all three NAFTA partners is possible and we continue to work hard and patiently to achieve this outcome,” Freeland said to legislators on the House of Commons international trade committee.
Freeland said she had discussed NAFTA with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer over the last few days.
“I remain convinced there is goodwill and a desire to move forward on the NAFTA negotiations… we will be working hard over the summer,” she added.
Trade frictions between the U.S. and Canada have been particularly strained in recent weeks, with Trump taking umbrage at remarks by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that were critical of the heavy U.S. tariffs.
Freeland on Tuesday repeated the Liberal government’s assertion that the NAFTA talks were on a separate track from the tariffs. Canada is preparing a retaliatory list of measures which it says will come into force on July 1.
Trump said on Tuesday the two nations had a good relationship but that Americans were being taken advantage of when it came to trade.
“We have to change our ways. We can no longer be the stupid country,” Trump said. “We want to be the smart country.”
— Reporting for Reuters by Jeff Mason and David Ljunggren; writing by Tim Ahmann.