By Doina Chiacu and David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is pushing for a deal in negotiations on a revised North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the White House said on Wednesday, but Canadian and Mexican officials were not due in Washington for talks before a Thursday deadline.
President Donald Trump is committed to getting a better agreement with Canada and Mexico, press secretary Sarah Sanders told Fox News.
“We still want to see something happen and we’re going to continue in those conversations. They’re ongoing now and we’re pushing forward and hopeful that we can get something done soon,” Sanders said.
On Tuesday, Mexico Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said he saw diminishing chances for a new NAFTA agreement before a Thursday deadline to present a deal that could be signed by the current U.S. Congress.
Neither Guajardo nor Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland had plans to travel to Washington on Wednesday, their representatives said.
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said that the Republican-controlled Congress would need to be notified of a new deal by Thursday to give lawmakers a chance to approve it before a newly elected Congress takes over in January.
Sanders did not address the timeline.
“We’ve got to get a deal that works for everybody, but most importantly this president is going to make sure that we get a deal that works for America,” she said. “He’s not going to stop until he gets it.”
Ryan said Congress cannot begin working on the negotiating law known as “fast track” without a trade deal in hand.
“The point is, we can’t work a bill unless we have an agreement that’s in writing that we can work on, and that hasn’t occurred yet,” Ryan told reporters at the U.S. Capitol.
Mexico’s chief NAFTA trade negotiator, Kenneth Smith, told Mexican radio MVS Noticias that negotiations would continue.
“What Congressman Ryan is talking about is not a final deadline for negotiations between the three nations,” he said.
Smith said the administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto had a responsibility to continue negotiating until Mexico’s new president, who will be elected on July 1, takes office on Dec. 1.
If a NAFTA deal is not reached before the election, Mexico’s negotiators will work closely with the incoming government’s transition team, Smith said.
U.S. Representative Kevin Brady, the chairman of the tax and trade-focused House Ways and Means Committee, said there was probably little room to go past the Thursday deadline for a deal and still get a new NAFTA approved by year end.
Asked if talks could go beyond May 17, he said: “That timetable’s right in the area there. That’s a pretty accurate timetable.”
Leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is leading polls to win the Mexican presidential race. His pick for economy minister, Graciela Marquez, has said his administration would be willing to accept a deal struck before the election.
(Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa, Frank Jack Daniel and Anthony Esposito in Mexico City; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Cynthia Osterman)