Mexican businesses back two-way trade deal with US

The flags of Canada, Mexico and the US are seen on a lectern before a joint news conference of Nafta talks in Mexico City. (Reuters pic)

MEXICO CITY: Mexico’s business sector will support a two-way trade deal with the United States if negotiations fall through on a three-way deal with Canada, the head of the country’s biggest employers’ association said Tuesday.

The United States and Canada are due to resume last-ditch talks Wednesday on salvaging the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), after Mexico and the US sealed their own two-way deal last week that may or may not end up including Ottawa.

A Canada-less deal “is not the ideal scenario, but it’s better than ending up without any agreement at all, it’s better than living in uncertainty,” said Gustavo de Hoyos, the president of the Mexican Employers’ Association (Coparmex).

“The best scenario is for a new trilateral deal. But if that’s not viable for some reason, I think we would definitely support (the US-Mexico) deal that was reached last Monday,” he said in an interview with Mexican business daily El Financiero.

De Hoyos’s association represents 36,000 businesses that make up an estimated 30 percent of the Mexican economy.

He is also a member of the select group of business leaders accompanying the talks at the invitation of the Mexican government — known as the “cuarto de junto,” or room next door, because they are not members of the negotiating team but remain just outside for consultations.

The head of the Mexican negotiating team, Kenneth Smith, praised this group on Monday for its key role in the talks.

“Proud and very grateful for the way we have worked hand in hand with the Mexican private sector throughout these negotiations,” he wrote on Twitter.

De Hoyo predicted the US-Canada talks would be complicated because of US President Donald Trump’s “tough” negotiating style, but said a trilateral deal was within reach.

“We’re dealing with a president (Trump) and US trade representative (Robert Lighthizer) who are tough negotiators. They’re not technical experts, they’re tough guys, and they use any means they can to achieve their goals,” he said.

“But I think the United States is interested in keeping it a trilateral deal. Canada is their largest trading partner,” he added.

“There will be fairly aggressive statements all week. We’ll see tug-of-wars and fake-outs. The Canadian prime minister and foreign minister will also do what they have to do to keep their country’s interests from being humiliated. But I don’t doubt that it’s in all three countries’ interest to keep the agreement.”