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Saturday, May 26, 2018

Trump administration faces crunch week on trade

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President Donald Trump's trade team faces a crunch week as they juggle talks on multiple sensitive issues representing hundreds of billions in trade amid pressing deadlines. High-stakes negotiations will take place with China, the European Union and Washington's two North American Free Trade Agreement partners.

And while the talks have been going on for weeks and months, key deadlines are fast approaching -- critically for NAFTA. Officials have been working furiously to update the 24-year-old trade pact that Trump called "a horrible, horrible disaster for this country."

Trump spoke to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday and discussed bringing the talks to quick conclusion, officials from both countries said. But Mexico Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said Tuesday it would be difficult to get a deal on the complex issues this week.

"The possibility of finishing the negotiations between now and Thursday isn't easy," he said on Mexican television. "I don't think it will happen" by then but the negotiations would continue, even through the Mexican presidential elections set for July 1.

And outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan said last week he would need a written agreement for the US Congress to approve a revamped trade pact this year, while Republicans still control the legislature -- something that could change in November's midterm elections.

The talks are hung up on Washington's demands to increase the US-made components in vehicles that receive duty-free status in NAFTA and the clock is running out. Canadian and Mexican officials have stressed they will not be pressured to reach a deal. The NAFTA revision is vital for another reason: exemptions for Canada and Mexico from the steep US tariffs on steel imports expire June 1.

Unless officials agree on terms covering steel and aluminum, the tariffs would take effect. The EU also faces the same June 1 deadline when the tariff exemptions expire. Ross said he was due on Tuesday to hold the latest of a round of discussions with EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem.

"I hope to get a reasonable conclusion," Ross said, but "if not they will go into effect." He said other countries, like South Korea, had agreed to export quotas that would have the same effect as tariffs but so far European officials "haven't agreed to anything."

 The EU continues to insist that as key allies they should be granted a permanent exemption and Brussels says it refuses to negotiate under a tariff threat. Also on Tuesday, Vice Premier Liu He -- considered President Xi Jinping's right-hand man on economic issues -- will lead a Chinese delegation to Washington.

The officials will try to find a way to head off a major trade battle after the US threatened tariffs on as much as $150 billion in Chinese imports.

-AFP, Washington

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