By RICARDO CASTILLO
With the dust from Mexico’s July 1 electoral storm finally beginning to wane, it is definitely time to start talking again about the nation’s international future regarding free trade. And believe you me, the upcoming free-trade talks agenda, set to begin next week, is going to be a doozy.
For starters, Mexican business organizations will host the fifth edition of the Pacific Alliance Entrepreneurial Encounter in Puerto Vallarta on Sunday, July 22, and Monday, July 23, with an impressive list of slated participants.
The encounter will take place within the framework of the 13th Presidential Summit with the confirmed attendance of Chilean President Sebastian Piñera, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra.
Mexico President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) will attend as an observer invited by Peña Nieto. Also attending will be the participant presidents of the South American market Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela), plus representatives from 56 nations and the top 250 businessmen from the four Pacific Alliance nations.
The theme of the summit will be the future of the 223-million-people-strong Pacific Alliance markets and the group’s future beyond 2030.
It will be partially organized by the Mexican Economy Secretariat (SE) and jointly hosted by SE Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo and Business Coordination Council (CCE) President Juan Pablo Castañón. The latter said that “the Pacific Alliance Summit will be key to continuing renegotiating NAFTA.”
Immediately after the Latin American nations free-trade initiative ends, Secretary Guajardo will head to Washington to jumpstart the ongoing North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
For the restarting round, Guajardo said that representatives of López Obrador will not participate, but they will be accommodated for future rounds of negotiations, which will definitely be headed by Peña Nieto’s appointed team until he steps down on Nov. 30.
Future president López Obrador has said that getting acquainted with the negotiations will be a key part of his administration’s transition period but that neither he nor his team of negotiators will participate in the current talks, which have reached a sour point given the resilience of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on themes such as the duration of the renegotiated version of NAFTA (known as the “sunset clause”) and President Donald Trump’s insistence on breaking up the Canada-U.S.-Mexico partnership and preference for negotiating separate deals with each of the other two nations.
Trump said last Wednesday, July 18, that he would prefer to first negotiate a free-trade-agreement with Mexico and “later one with Canada.” He praised AMLO for his landslide victory and, after a half-hour conversation with Mexico’s president-elect last July 2, said that U.S. relations with Mexico were headed on a good path. Incidentally, Trump made this comment while U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who personally talked to AMLO a week ago, sitting by his side.
Nevertheless, a bilateral treaty between the United States and Mexico is not on Secretary Guajardo’s agenda as of next Thursday, July 26, which will be the kick off of a binational Mexico-U.S. representatives gathering that will later be joined by Canada’s negotiators.
In a recent radio interview, Guajardo said that if all the parties agreed, NAFTA could be ready for signing “in 45 days” as over two-thirds of the technical writing has been penned with the exception of the U.S. insistance of the sunset clause to cancel NAFTA after five years, which both Canada and Mexico reject. It’s the considerable remaining deadlock.
Guajardo commented that Trump’s idea of bilateral agreements – which break up the North American regional concept idea behind NAFTA – would be “costly in terms of time and would mean beginning from scratch again given that within the U.S. Congress regulation Trump would have to request permission to negotiate a treaty different to NAFTA.”
“But if all goes well we could be signing NAFTA at the beginning of next November,” he said.
In terms of Canadian perception, Canadian Ambassador to Mexico David MacNaughton said he was confident that negotiations to modernize NAFTA and keep it a trilateral trade deal would succeed.
Be that as it may, with the country’s largest election behind it, Mexico is now on a free-trade wheeling-and-dealing path as of next week, following closely the globalization freeway set up by past administrations that will definitely be followed by AMLO over the next six-year-term period starting Dec. 1.