U.S. Agriculture Secretary says hopes for NAFTA deal by September

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said on Wednesday the North American Free Trade Agreement may be negotiated separately with Canada and Mexico to bring the deal to a close by September.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue testifies before a Senate Appropriations Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on the FY2019 budget request for the Agriculture Department, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

“Mexico has been more amenable to some of the concerns that we’ve had. We hope that the Mexican deal can be done very quickly, possibly by the end of August or before September,” Perdue told reporters.

“Then Canada will hopefully follow suit quickly and we can reassemble that trifecta then,” Perdue said at the Agriculture Transportation Summit in Arlington, Virginia.

The United States, Canada and Mexico have been negotiating a revamp of their 24-year-old trade pact since August, after U.S. President Donald Trump criticized the deal and blamed it for the U.S. trade deficit with Mexico. He argues it caused jobs to move south of the border.

Talks have stalled over U.S. demands on autos and other issues, but Mexican trade negotiators are to travel to Washington this week to revive them.

Mexico’s President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a left-leaning nationalist, said after his July 1 election that he would be willing to renegotiate the deal, though he has been critical of it in the past. Lopez Obrador takes office on December 1.

The negotiations to modernize NAFTA were originally scheduled to finish by the end of 2017, but the deadline has been extended several times.

Perdue said he was confident that when the NAFTA deal is finalized, Congress would ratify it.

“Based on what Congress’ comments are, I would think they would be overwhelmingly gratified with a renewed NAFTA 2.0,” Perdue said.

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