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Trump’s trade chief says NAFTA deal ‘very much in reach’ as Canada’s top negotiator says progress limited

February 13, 2018 9:01 PM
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Meanwhile, Donald Trump on Tuesday again slammed Canada on trade, saying: “Canada has treated us very, very unfairly when it comes to lumber and timber. Very unfairly.”

WASHINGTON—In a significant departure from his previous public comments, Donald Trump’s trade chief expressed confidence Tuesday that the U.S. can reach a North American Free Trade Agreement deal with Canada and Mexico.

“I think we’re making progress on NAFTA. There was a lot of anxiety at one point as to whether or not we’d be in a position where we’d have to withdraw in order to get a good agreement,” Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. Trade Representative, told the president and senators at a White House meeting.

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Lighthizer, who has criticized Canada’s negotiating posture much more frequently than he has criticized Mexico’s, specified that the progress is occurring “particularly with respect to the Mexicans,” and he said “we have a number of issues that we still have to work our way through.”

But he said he is “hopeful” they can find a deal Trump, Republican legislators and Democrats will all find acceptable.

It wasn’t all upbeat: Lighthizer’s remarks came after Trump criticized Canada for the second consecutive day. But his comments were the latest to suggest the Trump administration has generally brightened on the prospects of modernizing, rather than terminating, a deal the president has described as the worst in world history.

Lighthizer had not been nearly so positive in his previous public statements. He also cited “real headway” at the end of the negotiating round in Montreal last month, but he did not say a deal was in reach, and he said: “This round was a step forward, but we are progressing very slowly.”

Canada’s chief NAFTA negotiator, Steve Verheul, offered a more pessimistic assessment on Tuesday, telling an Ottawa trade conference that progress has been limited on account of a negotiation schedule moving “a bit too fast” and because U.S. negotiators have been given limited flexibility, from “the top,” even on “easy” matters.

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