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Trade official: US to follow 'aggressive' timeline in NAFTA talks

The U.S. will follow an "aggressive" timeline in talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, a U.S. trade representative official said during an Aug. 15 conference call with reporters.

Speaking on background, the official said the U.S., Canada, and Mexico the three NAFTA signatory countries — plan to table "lots of areas" of the agreement as they begin negotiations this week, but the official did not specify which elements of talks would be placed aside.

"The U.S. always tries to set an aggressive timetable, but we will admit this one is a bit more advanced," the official said. "But there's no better group of countries prepared to meet this aggressive timetable."

Among the areas that the U.S. plans to discuss in the opening talks are the so-called rules of origin, which provide guidelines for materials sourced from non-NAFTA countries in products made in the three signatory countries. A major goal of the Trump administration is to narrow the trade deficit with Mexico and encourage the sourcing of U.S. materials in products created in North America. The official emphasized that the text exchanged among the three countries' governments is classified, but they will conduct an "extremely transparent" collaborative effort.

"The overall goal is to address concerns and do more to incentivize and create more manufacturing and manufacturing jobs in the U.S.," the trade official said. "Rules of origin is one of the many ways to address that."

The first round of negotiations to modify and update the 23-year-old trade deal is scheduled to begin Aug. 16 at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington and is slated to run through Aug. 20. Lighthizer plans to join his counterparts, Canada Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland and Mexico Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal in a scheduled press conference the morning of Aug. 16.

The opening talks will look at trilateral rules to provide benefits for all of North America and will take into account viewpoints from each of the trading partners, the official added.

In July, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer released his set of objectives for the negotiations, which include providing easier access for American exports through liberalizing intellectual property standards and eliminating subsidies and other market practices to improve the U.S. trade balance and reduce the trade deficit with Canada and Mexico.

The annual U.S. goods trade deficit with Mexico was $63.2 billion in 2016, while the trade deficit with Canada was $12.1 billion in 2016, according to the U.S. trade representative.

The Wall Street Journal reported Aug. 14 that Canada plans to push for greater environmental provisions in the negotiations and maintain the ability to push back against certain trade tariffs, which President Donald Trump opposes. Differing views have also surfaced between retailers from Mexico and Canada and the U.S., which disagree over the proposed U.S. objective to raise the value of goods purchased online that can be imported into the two countries duty free.