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Politics

Mexico eyes May start to NAFTA talks

Input from private sector will shape demands

SHUICHI MARUYAMA, Nikkei staff writer | North America

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's government aims to begin renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement as soon as May, following a 90-day industry consultation process that began Wednesday.

U.S. President Donald Trump has called for the trade deal linking the U.S., Mexico and Canada to be renegotiated. Mexico on Wednesday announced the beginning of a three-month period in which the government will hold formal talks with industry groups and major companies to gather input.

More than 80% of Mexico's exports go to the U.S. and Canada. The government intends to set its goals for the fresh round of trade talks with the needs and concerns of major export industries such as the auto sector in mind.

Mexico's foreign affairs and economy ministries will take the lead on NAFTA talks. The country's Senate, which handles aspects of foreign relations, will take part as well. Getting the administration, legislature and private sector on the same page ahead of time aims to help negotiations proceed smoothly. The channel for consultation with businesses is to be kept open even after talks with the U.S. and Canada begin, letting the government swiftly address new issues requiring private-sector input as they come up.

Ildefonso Guajardo, Mexico's economy secretary, said Monday that it will likely take the U.S. Congress at least three months to set the stage for negotiations, pegging the start date at May or later. President Enrique Pena Nieto seconded the May target on Wednesday, adding that the U.S. will begin preparations similar to Mexico's. He expressed hope that consulting with the private sector would lead to beneficial ties between the two neighbors.

Wide net

Pena Nieto and Trump are both thought to view America's large trade deficit with Mexico as problematic following an earlier phone call. The Mexican government is expected during the renegotiation to explore ways of balancing trade that will be acceptable to the private sector.

This country is also examining options farther afield. Guajardo revealed in remarks published Tuesday by the newspaper El Economista that Mexico will work toward free trade agreements with fellow Trans-Pacific Partnership members Australia, Brunei, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam. The plan is to use the negotiating framework set up for that doomed multilateral agreement to get pacts inked quickly.

Mexico already has free trade agreements with more than 40 nations and regions. Adding to that number will help make the country less reliant on its fellow North American states, boosting Mexico's bargaining power in NAFTA talks.

Guajardo and Cecilia Malmstrom, trade commissioner for the European Union, said in a statement following a telephone call Wednesday that their two economies will "accelerate the pace of talks" that aim to "deepen openness to trade on both sides," citing "the worrying rise of protectionism around the world." This will involve two rounds of negotiations by the end of June to deepen an existing Mexico-EU free trade agreement.

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