NAFTA talks resume amid push for quick deal

A few key disputes -- such as the North American parts content in light vehicles, agriculture and investor-state dispute panels -- will determine whether a deal to retool NAFTA is possible, says Flavio Volpe, head of an industry group representing Canadian auto parts makers.

UPDATED: 4/19/18 3:40 pm ET - adds details

WASHINGTON -- The trio of ministers leading Nafta talks meet again in Washington beginning Thursday as they continue to push for a deal in principle within week.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will meet Canada's Chrystia Freeland and Mexico's Ildefonso Guajardo in sessions Thursday in Washington. Some talks could continue Friday. The sessions come amid the latest technical talks -- what Freeland called an "intensive phase" -- after the ministers' last session on April 6.

Talks have shifted gears to what Guajardo called a permanent round of negotiations as the Trump administration eyes a stopgap deal. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Guajardo have both said a deal could be reached in the coming weeks, though there are signs that there could be a deal that leaves the fine-print to further talks between bureaucrats.

A few key disputes -- such as the North American parts content in light vehicles, agriculture and investor-state dispute panels -- will determine whether a deal is possible, said Flavio Volpe, head of an industry group representing Canadian auto parts makers.

"On balance, we may be close enough on all of them to get a deal done," he said in an interview.

Big gaps remain and the Thursday meeting is unlikely to be a final step. The ministers' meeting will be closely watched for signs of breakthroughs on some of the key disputes, such as local content in the auto industry. But no statement or announcement is expected at this time, said a U.S. administration official speaking on condition of anonymity.

The parties are making progress on the issue of rules of origin for autos, Freeland said.

"I will say that we have been making good progress on the rules of origin in our conversations with the U.S., with Mexico, and in our trilateral conversation," Freeland told reporters after the meeting in Washington to discuss the trade pact.

It's not clear how long they will meet. A U.S. administration official said Lighthizer would meet his counterparts Thursday and Friday, though Freeland only announced she'd be in Washington Thursday. Mexico Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray is also said to be planning to come to Washington to try to break a Nafta impasse.

The Bank of Canada, which held interest rates steady Wednesday, said "a wide range of outcomes are still possible for the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement." The central bank's base-case scenario assumes existing trade agreements remain in place, along with "adverse effects from uncertainty" on investment.

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