The U.S. and Mexico achieved progress in bilateral trade talks over the past several weeks but issues remain on rules for auto production, Reuters reported Thursday. One agricultural issue that appears to have gone away in the North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations is the U.S. demand for certain restrictions on seasonal exports from Mexico.
"The idea is to do our best to finish this agreement as soon as possible," Mexico's Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo told reporters as he prepared for talks Thursday with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Washington. Any "handshake" deal to overhaul NAFTA must involve Canada, Guajardo told reporters Wednesday.
Reports suggest Canada could re-enter NAFTA talks within days, but thorny issues such as Canadian dairy policies remain outstanding. The administration claims Canada's protectionist policies have essentially shut out U.S. dairy producers in so-called unfiltered milk, which is used to make cheese, yogurt and ice cream. In April 2017, President Donald Trump called the Canadian action "a disgrace."
Mexico ranks as the third largest agricultural export market for the United States. Mexico and Canada together represent nearly one-third of total U.S. agricultural exports, or about $40 billion last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Indeed, Mexico is the largest volume market for U.S. pork products and second in dollar value to Japan as well as a major destination for American dairy products, especially cheeses.
In 2017, Mexico bought more than $1.3 billion worth of dairy products from the U.S. as well as around $1.5 billion in pork products, according to the USDA. Corn exports to Mexico totaled around $2.6 billion last year, and beef shipments reached nearly $1 billion.
"When the ink's on the paper, that's when I'll be ready to celebrate," said Brian Duncan, an Illinois hog farmer who is vice president of the Illinois Farm Bureau. "We're happy to see this as an intermediate step, if there's a 'handshake' deal, but there's still issues that might need to be worked through."