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NAFTA Talks Could Begin As Early As August; ‘We Are Ready,’ Mexican Official Says

Top U.S. and Mexico officials met in Washington on Thursday
Mexico Foreign Relations Ministry
(From left) Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met in Washington on Thursday with Mexico’s Secretary of Interior Jose Osorio Chong and Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Videgaray.

The top U.S. trade official formally notified Congress on Thursday of the Trump administration’s intention to renegotiation the North American Free Trade Agreement, meaning official talks could begin as early as mid-August.

In a letter, U.S. Trade Rep. Robert Lighthizer told congressional leaders the administration would consult with congress over a required 90 days to establish the country’s negotiation priorities.

Officials on both sides say they want to reach an agreement by the end of 2017, an aggressive deadline, compared with the 14 months the two countries deliberated during the original NAFTA negotiations in the 1990s.

The informal deadline could become part of the negotiations, said Luis de la Calle, a Mexican economist who helped broker the original agreement.

"I think we can tell the U.S. that ‘Listen, this will never go through the Mexican Senate, and we have elections in 2018. That's why I cannot process this,’” de la Calle said. “Which is exactly the sort of argument that the U.S. has always used when Mexico has asked the U.S. for concessions."

Mexico’s next elections are in 2018, and some presidential hopefuls here are already campaigning on being stiff trade negotiators. Canada’s next presidential elections are scheduled for 2019.

In a press event in Washington on Thursday, Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Videgaray responded to Lighthizer’s notice saying he’s looking forward to the negotiations.

“The government of Mexico welcomes this development,” Videgaray said. “We are prepared. We are ready.”

Jorge Valencia was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2016 to 2019.