trade

Trade ministers are close on changes to U.S.-Mexico-Canada deal

Canada and Mexico both need to agree to any updates to the deal, which the three countries signed a year ago.

Robert Lighthizer

Top officials from the U.S., Mexico and Canada are close to agreeing to changes to the new North American trade pact that would allow for House Democrats to put the deal up for a vote, Mexico's top trade official said on Wednesday.

"We’re reaching understandings. We’re now looking at very specific details, but I think we’re heading towards a deal," Mexican Undersecretary for North America Jesús Seade told reporters after meeting for roughly four hours during the morning with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

"Everything looks like it's heading in the right direction," he added.

The latest flurry of trilateral engagement comes as Lighthizer works with House Democrats to make changes to the USMCA surrounding the pact’s labor, environment, enforcement and prescription drug provisions. Canada and Mexico both need to agree to any updates to the deal, which the three countries signed a year ago.

Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland joined her two counterpoints for a three-way meeting in Washington on Wednesday evening. Two of her top deputies — acting U.S. Ambassador Kirsten Hillman and Canada's chief NAFTA negotiator Steve Verheul — joined the meeting. .

Seade and Freeland left the headquarters of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative on Wednesday evening without announcing a breakthrough. But both officials indicated that they will remain in discussions in the coming days to wrap up a deal that the House could vote on soon. Neither would speculate on the timeline for striking a deal.

Seade said he plans to go to Canada on Friday to discuss more details with Freeland. Freeland indicated, however, that there are no plans yet for when all three officials will meet again.

“We have a strong interest in having this ratified in all three countries,” Freeland said. “We are here to do the work needed to get there.”

Canada is largely supportive of the work that has been done by Lighthizer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Mexican officials to move toward a final deal on USMCA, she said.

Canada is expected to agree to tweaks that are on the table. But Mexico is worried about some proposals, such as a request by House Democrats to allow for U.S. inspectors to make sure factories in Mexico aren't violating labor rules. Mexican officials fear that certain changes, like on-site inspections, would threaten the nation’s sovereignty.

Labor enforcement has been the main issue holding up an agreement between House Democrats and the administration. U.S. lawmakers are seeking to ensure that Mexico fully implements its landmark labor reforms — and is held accountable if it does not.

Earlier in the day, Seade did not get into the specifics of the proposals, but he said "it's all things we've already discussed back and forth."

"We're trying to close the loops," Seade said. "It's about time we reach a deal, don't you think?"

While Democrats and Lighthizer have not formally struck a deal, Seade praised Democrats for pushing for stronger terms than the original USMCA signed last year. Lighthizer has been negotiating with a group of nine Democrats since June to make changes to the pact Democrats say will benefit workers in the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

“When we come to an agreement, it certainly will be a huge improvement on the originally signed agreement thanks to the Democrats,” Seade said.

Megan Cassella and Andy Blatchford contributed to this report.