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Latest NAFTA round ends in a stalemate with plans to extend talks into 2018

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer says NAFTA talks are being extended into 2018 – a tacit admission that negotiators aren’t going to meet their original deadline for a deal by year-end.

The proposals tabled at the latest round have revealed huge chasms in negotiating positions, on everything from dairy and autos to even the basic architecture of an agreement – and the tone of Tuesday’s news conference made clear the talks have turned downright frosty.

Lighthizer described being “surprised and disappointed by the resistance to change on the part of our negotiating partners,” and urged all sides to consider being more flexible before the talks resume again in Mexico next month.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland sounded a slightly more diplomatic note, but made it clear Canada believes others at the table are preventing progress from being made.

“At the beginning of the summer, Vice-President Mike Pence told the governors gathered in Rhode Island that he believed a win-win-win outcome would be achieved in these negotiations. Canada believes that too,” she said. “But that cannot be achieved with a winner-take-all mindset or an approach that seeks to undermine NAFTA rather than modernize it.”

Freeland nonetheless said that the talks have continued to make “significant headway” despite a series of “unconventional proposals” that are making the work that much more difficult.

Mexico’s Economic Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo acknowledged that the talks would be difficult, but said obstacles to progress remain and that all sides need to work towards “constructive and creative solutions.”

“We must understand that we all have limits,” Guajardo said. “We must ensure the decisions we make today do not come back to haunt us tomorrow.”

The U.S. has surprised its neighbours by proposing things like a sunset clause that could end NAFTA in five years, along with plans to gut the agreement’s enforcement mechanisms.