Three countries ‘fairly close’ on NAFTA, Trump says as Mexico touts ‘80 per cent’ chance of deal

U.S. President Donald Trump says the U.S., Canada and Mexico are “fairly close on NAFTA,” adding that they “have a chance to make a deal.”

Trump’s words before a cabinet meeting on Monday were his most optimistic to date on the probability of a successful renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

They corroborated the optimism earlier in the day from Mexican Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo, who told a Mexican television station that there is “a very high probability, about 80 per cent,” of an agreement in principle by “the first week of May,” Reuters reported.

Guajardo, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland met in Washington last week for high-level negotiations that took the place of a full-scale negotiating round. Freeland said Friday that the talks were “intensive” and “constructive,” but she declined to offer her assessment of the chances for a deal.

It is not clear what exactly an “agreement in principle” would mean. Negotiations would be far from complete, even if such an agreement were announced. As of last month, the three countries had concluded only six of the planned 30-plus chapters of the agreement.

“The finish line is not even close on NAFTA,” Laura Dawson, director of the Canada Institute at Washington’s Wilson Center think tank, said last week.

The Trump administration appears to be in a rush because of the Mexican presidential election on July 1, in which the leading candidate in a left-wing NAFTA skeptic, and because of the U.S. congressional election in November, in which Democrats generally more skeptical of trade deals than Republicans could win back control of one or both chambers of Congress.

An agreement in principle, Dawson said, could “give all parties some political cover.”