Time ticks on U.S. bid for NAFTA re­write

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - MONEY - By Paul Wise­man

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s team is run­ning out of time to re­write a trade pact with Canada and Mex­ico this year just as it’s con­fronting China and spar­ring with its al­lies over U.S. tar­iffs on im­ported steel and alu­minum.

If ne­go­tia­tors can’t agree on a re­vamped North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment soon — House Speaker Paul Ryan set an in­for­mal Thurs­day dead­line — the talks could drag into 2019. Or Trump could carry out his threat to aban­don the agree­ment he’s la­beled a job-killing “dis­as­ter” and throw com­merce among the three NAFTA coun­tries into dis­ar­ray.

“The win­dow is clos­ing rapidly,” said Dan Ujczo, a trade lawyer at Dick­in­son Wright in Colum­bus, Ohio.

NAFTA is hardly the only ur­gent item on the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s trade agenda. Trump was ex­pected to meet Thurs­day with China’s Vice Premier Liu He to try to avert a trade war. Liu will also meet with a U.S. team led by Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin.

The U.S. and China, locked in a con­flict over Bei­jing’s de­mand that Amer­i­can com­pa­nies turn over tech­nol­ogy to gain ac­cess to the Chinese mar­ket, have threat­ened to slap tar­iffs on $50 bil­lion of each other’s goods. And Trump has asked U.S. Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Robert Lighthizer to find an ad­di­tional $100 bil­lion in Chinese prod­ucts to tax.

The prospect of a trade war be­tween the world’s two big­gest economies has un­nerved global mar­kets and alarmed ma­jor com­pa­nies.

“The stakes are too high for these talks to fail,” said Chris­tine McDaniel, a se­nior re­search fel­low at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity’s Mer­ca­tus Cen­ter. “The U.S. econ­omy, its firms, its work­ers, and its peo­ple all de­pend on be­ing able to buy and sell with their coun­ter­parts at home and across the globe ev­ery day.”

Talk­ing to re­porters Thurs­day, Trump down­played the prospect of a suc­cess­ful ne­go­ti­a­tion with Bei­jing.

“Will that be suc­cess­ful?” he asked. “I tend to doubt it.”

Trade sanc­tions could dis­rupt busi­ness be­tween the coun­tries and po­ten­tially threaten jobs. Con­sumers would be hurt by higher prices for im­ported prod­ucts hit by tar­iffs.

In the mean­time, Ja­pan, a staunch

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