Mexico, U.S. to discuss NAFTA replacement, border delays

by Reuters
Friday, 12 April 2019 14:43 GMT

(Updates with Mexican president; adds photo)

By Anthony Esposito

MERIDA, Mexico, April 12 (Reuters) - Mexican government and business leaders meet with their U.S. counterparts for a second straight day on Friday, seeking to hasten ratification of a trade deal, resolve border delays that are hurting exporters, and discuss metals tariffs.

The talks coincide with renewed tensions over trade and the border after two years of uncertainty sparked by President Donald Trump's demand to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Mexican Economy Minister Graciela Marquez are scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the so-called U.S.-Mexico CEO Dialogue in the Mexican city of Merida in the Yucatan peninsula.

Their meeting will center on ratification of the deal agreed to replace NAFTA, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), as well as a dispute over tomato trade and the steel and aluminum tariffs the Trump administration imposed on Mexico nearly a year ago under the "Section 232," Marquez told Reuters.

Marquez will be able to tout a workers' rights bill that Mexico's lower house of Congress approved late on Thursday, legislation that U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called key to winning over Democrats wary of USMCA.

Officials will also discuss delays at the U.S.-Mexico border which have cost businesses on both sides millions of dollars.

Slowdowns began late last month after Trump threatened to close the border if Mexico did not halt a surge of people, mostly Central Americans, seeking asylum in the United States. In the end, his administration reassigned several hundred border agents to handle the influx of migrants, creating staffing shortages that triggered long delays.

"The big announcement of a border closure didn't happen, but instead we are left in a worse situation ... because there is a de facto closure that is causing huge delays," said Economy Minister Marquez.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said at his regular morning news conference in anticipation of the talks in Merida, "And I expect if there's a problem with the time it's taking for goods to be transported and pass customs, that things will gradually return to normal."

U.S. Customs and Border Protection will send about 100 agents to the border to speed up crossing times, a Democratic U.S. Representative said on Thursday.

Marquez said the issue of fabricated structured steel would also be discussed after the U.S. International Trade Commission said last month that domestic producers were being harmed by imports of the product from Canada, China and Mexico.

In prepared remarks, Ross underscored Mexico's position as the second-largest U.S. export market and its third-largest trading partner, saying the "integrated economies generated over $678 billion in two-way trade in goods and services last year."

Ross said the forum's job was to explore how the private sector can create economic conditions to improve the lives of people in southern Mexico and Central America.

Mexico is eager to drum up investor interest in strategic projects in its southeastern states and allay any fears about how Lopez Obrador has been managing the Mexican economy, Latin America's second largest, since taking office in December.

Lopez Obrador is scheduled to give closing remarks at the event later in the day. (Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.