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Top trade negotiators head home without deal after week of negotiations

Top trade negotiators from Canada and Mexico made no guarantees that a deal on a revamped North American Free Trade Agreement could be reached by House Speaker Paul Ryan's May 17 deadline for a vote in the current U.S. Congress.

Following a 30-minute trilateral meeting between top trade negotiators from the U.S., Canada and Mexico on May 11, Canadian Minister of Affairs Chrystia Freeland and Mexican Secretary of the Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal said ministers from their countries would be heading home that day without a new deal. Getting the deal "right" without rushing it remains a priority regardless of looming deadlines, they said, adding that lower-level trade officials will continue negotiations in Washington.

"Our view has been that what we want is a good deal, not just a deal," Freeland told reporters. "The negotiation will take as long as it takes to get a good deal."

When asked if the remaining issues are too insurmountable to conquer over the next seven days, Freeland maintained a relatively optimistic tone and repeatedly said it will "take as long as it takes" in order to secure what is deemed a good deal.

Guajardo denied that getting a deal done in 2018 is out of the picture.

"We're not going to sacrifice the quality of an agreement because of pressure of time," Guajardo said. "We are aware of calendars."

The trilateral meeting was the first of the week for the NAFTA negotiators, who have been operating under bilateral talks since the latest round of negotiations began in Washington on May 7.

Trade ministers will continue to be in touch over the phone over the coming days and meet as needed, which Freeland said likely will be "soon" without providing a date.

Earlier in the day, President Donald Trump railed on what he called a "terrible" deal as he met with executives from General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV on auto emissions standards.

"NAFTA has been a terrible deal for the United States and one of the worst trade deals in history," said Trump, who has repeatedly threatened a withdrawal from the 24-year-old deal if an agreement is not to his liking.

Trump contended that Mexico and Canada do not want to "lose the golden goose" with NAFTA. "NAFTA has been a horrible, horrible disaster for this country and we'll see if we can make it reasonable."

Much of the hang-up during the last several weeks of intensified NAFTA talks have centered on the automobile rules of origin, which dictate how much of a car must be produced in the three NAFTA countries to remain duty-free.

The U.S. has proposed greater North American content in automobile production — a proposal Mexico and Canada reject.

Freeland declined to comment on specifics of those negotiations but did say the rules of origin topic continues to drive talks.

"Autos has very much been a focus this week," Freeland said. "Canada cares very much about getting the rules of origin right. The car sector is tremendously important for Canada."

Freeland also said she planned to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before the close of the day May 11.

Ryan said May 9 that a deal would need to be reached by May 17 in order to make it to a vote under the current Republican-controlled Congress, due to Trade Promotion Authority procedures. Should Democrats take control of either chamber in the November midterm elections, securing a vote approving a renegotiated NAFTA deal could prove to be arduous and potentially negate more than nine months of negotiations.

Although the three countries did not produce a trilateral statement at the end of the week of talks, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who was seen leaving his offices with Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner on May 11, said in his own statement that talks will continue and that the latest negotiations have focused on intellectual property, dairy and agriculture, de minimis levels, energy and labor.

"The United States is ready to continue working with Mexico and Canada to achieve needed breakthroughs on these objectives," Lighthizer said. "Our teams will continue to be fully engaged."