Vice-President Pence says NAFTA deal possible in several weeks

U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence said on Saturday he was leaving a summit of Latin American countries in Peru very hopeful that the United States, Mexico and Canada were close to a deal on a renegotiated NAFTA trade pact.

'We think we are close, we are encouraged at the progress of our negotiations,' Pence says

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, right, shakes hands with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after a bilateral meeting at the Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru, Saturday, April 14, 2018. (Karel Navarro/Associated Press)

U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence said on Saturday he was leaving a summit of Latin American countries in Peru very hopeful that the United States, Mexico and Canada were close to a deal on a renegotiated NAFTA trade pact.

Pence told reporters it was possible that a deal would be reached in the next several weeks.

"As the president said very recently, we think we are close, we are encouraged at the progress of our negotiations and we are hopeful that we can conclude a successful renegotiation of NAFTA that will result in greater prosperity and a more fair and reciprocal trade between Canada the United States and Mexico," Pence told reporters in a separate news conference with Justin Trudeau on Saturday. 

The vice-president also said that the topic of funding for U.S. President Donald Trump's proposed wall on the U.S. border with Mexico did not come up in Pence's meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.

Dramatic shifts in the tone of trade talks have developed recently, with the Trump administration softening one key demand in the NAFTA negotiations, then expressing an interest in re-joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

After spending months demanding a big increase in the amount of content cars must include from North America to avoid a tariff, in addition to insisting that half of every car comprise U.S. parts, it has now softened both proposals.

Trump has repeatedly rejected the notion of a specific timeline on NAFTA, though the impending Mexican election in the summer has left negotiators from all three camps feeling pressure to come to a timely agreement. 

"We're getting pretty close to a deal [on NAFTA]," Trump said at the White House. "It could be two weeks, it could be three months, it could be five months, I don't care ... I have no timeline."

No consensus on deal timeline

An eighth round of negotiations were tentatively being planned for the beginning of April, but a last-minute meeting was had in Washington D.C. instead between Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and her U.S. and Mexican counterparts.

After that meeting, Freeland said the NAFTA negotiations recently entered "a new, more intensive phase of engagement" — but would not say how close Canada, Mexico and the U.S. are right now to signing a deal.

At the beginning of the month, a source with direct knowledge of the negotiations between the three countries told CBC News a few more weeks of talks may be all that is needed to secure a deal in principle. 

Mexico's economy minister also said he saw an 80 per cent chance of a new NAFTA deal by the first week of May.

However, other stakeholders still see gaps in the negotiations that must be filled before anything is signed. 

"They're not close to a deal at all," Canadian union leader Jerry Dias said in Washington Wednesday, adding there are too many disputed chapters left to resolve and it was premature to think a deal is on the horizon.

Talks between negotiators continued this week in Washington.

With files from Reuters and The Canadian Press