Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland meets for a trilateral meeting with Mexico’s Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal, left, and Ambassador Robert E. Lighthizer, United States Trade Representative, during the final day of the third round of NAFTA negotiations at Global Affairs Canada in Ottawa on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017. A moment of truth approaches in the NAFTA negotiations, with the coming days likely to reveal not only whether an agreement is achievable this year but also how extensive such an agreement might be. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

NAFTA watch: Countries meet in possible final push for deal in 2018

WASHINGTON — The NAFTA countries began a days-long negotiating round Monday in what could be their final chance for an agreement this year, before the talks enter electoral hibernation.

Any possibility of a deal hinges on the ability of Mexico and the United States to resolve a central issue of these negotiations, one that has significantly divided those two countries: auto parts.

Mexico delivered a counter-proposal on autos Monday in its first meeting of the round with the U.S., which ran slightly overtime and delayed the first Canada-U.S. session until Tuesday morning.

If an agreement doesn’t happen soon, some feel it won’t happen this year at all Mexico and the U.S. will soon both be immersed in national election campaigns through most of 2018.

“We’ll be here for as long as is necessary,” Mexico’s Ildefonso Guajardo said as he left the office of the U.S. trade representative, where the talks are being held.

U.S. trade czar Robert Lighthizer has said the window for a deal may only be open for the next one or two weeks.

The U.S. is demanding that 40 per cent of every car be produced in a high-wage country, otherwise the car is subject to a tariff. Automakers could meet that threshold with up to 15 percentage points’ worth of credits for spending on research and development.

Mexico has rejected the U.S. plan as damaging to its own industry.

But some analysts say the latest U.S. plan wouldn’t be good for any country, let alone their workers or consumers. Few companies would be likely to redesign their production patterns to comply with the new NAFTA, preferring to pay the 2.5 per cent tariff on small vehicles and pass the cost onto customers, they argue.

Guajardo said he shared with Lighthizer a so-called “conceptual” suggestion for a different way to calculate the auto rules, indicating that they discussed broad ideas more than specific percentages.

A big unknown question looming over the talks is what the U.S. would do after it gets a deal on autos — and whether it would opt for a quick agreement, or keep negotiating hard.

“That … probably is the crux of what happens next,” said one person familiar with the talks. “One does not know … how the next week will play out.”

More than a half-dozen groups have been meeting in recent days to try clearing the non-controversial issues off the table, so the ministers can focus on the hardest political trade-offs.

For example, one group met to discuss customs procedures, but avoided the toughest of all customs issues: online purchases and whether Canada will move its meagre $20 duty-free level closer to the American US$800 limit.

Guajardo said he felt his first meeting Monday produced progress. But he said there’s still work to do — on multiple issues.

“Every day … you are advancing toward your goal. Now, how far we are from reaching a deal, it will depend on how we construct solutions. And how creative and flexible we are,” the Mexican minister said.

“My suggestion is that we do not have in these following days the luxury of just working on (the) one item (of autos). We need to work simultaneously on all the items.”

Just Posted

Decision next month in drunk driving causing death trial

Bobbi Crotty trial on four impaired charges wrapped on Tuesday

RCMP on scene of collision near Rimbey

Hwy 53 down to one lane at collision scene

Is the fate of Red Deer’s Parsons House solely in the hands of the province?

Demolition of old police station next door to begin this fall

Fundraiser to help keep kids warm in Blackfalds

Community Warmth Fall Fundraiser

Piper Creek Foundation gets a new name

Red Deer subsidized housing program for seniors

WATCH: Red Deer students take part in annual run

Dawe/St. Pat’s Run reaches 40th anniversary

Uber driver suing Bucs’ QB Winston over groping incident

PHOENIX — A female Uber driver in Arizona is suing Tampa Bay… Continue reading

Thousands of fans request grand jury probe of Prince’s death

MINNEAPOLIS — Thousands of Prince fans are asking federal authorities to open… Continue reading

Man pleads guilty to ‘Field of Dreams’ site vandalism

DUBUQUE, Iowa — A man accused of driving onto and damaging the… Continue reading

Rafael Nadal to skip tournaments in Asia because of bad knee

MADRID — Rafael Nadal says he will not play in upcoming tournaments… Continue reading

Canadian crabs with bad attitude threaten coastal Maine ecosystem

BIDDEFORD, Maine — Canadians are known as friendly folks, but these crabby… Continue reading

UK lawmakers: ‘Wild West’ cryptocurrencies need regulation

LONDON — British lawmakers have backed calls for greater regulation of cryptocurrencies… Continue reading

Proposed class action lawsuit on trailing commissions filed against CIBC

TORONTO — A class action lawsuit regarding trailing commissions paid to discount… Continue reading

Saskatchewan family reunited with dog that bolted during July 2017 farm visit

MOOSE JAW, Sask. — A family in Moose Jaw, Sask., is overjoyed… Continue reading

Most Read