(Bloomberg) -- U.S. lawmakers urged the Trump administration not to walk away from talks on a new Nafta a day after America’s top negotiator said the countries are still far from a deal.
“It’s important that the United States, Canada, and Mexico stay at the table to negotiate a new and modernized Nafta that grows U.S. jobs and helps us sell more ‘Made in America’ products,” Kevin Brady, Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said Friday in a statement. Ways and Means is the main committee in the House of Representatives that oversees trade policy.
Brady said he hoped the three nations “continue working in good faith to get this done -- whether that means a vote in Congress this year or next.”
The plea came a day after U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer warned the three nations are “nowhere near close to a deal” to update the region’s 24-year-old free-trade pact and negotiators missed a top legislator’s deadline for progress.
House Speaker Paul Ryan had said he’d need be notified of the intent to sign a new Nafta by May 17 to pass all the legal hurdles and give the current Congress the chance to vote on it this year. On Thursday, Ryan extended that timeframe to the next week or two.
“There are gaping differences on intellectual property, agricultural market access, de minimis levels, energy, labor, rules of origin, geographical indications, and much more,” Lighthizer said Thursday in a statement emailed by his press office. “We of course will continue to engage in negotiations, and I look forward to working with my counterparts to secure the best possible deal for American farmers, ranchers, workers, and businesses.”
The Mexican peso and Canadian dollar weakened following Lighthizer’s comments. The three countries have been negotiating for nine months to modernize Nafta, and midterm congressional elections in the U.S. and a Mexican presidential campaign this year have raised the urgency for a quick resolution. Trump has threatened to withdraw from the pact if he can’t rework it to shrink America’s trade deficit and boost manufacturing jobs.
Lighthizer’s doubts dashed hopes for a quick resolution after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier on Thursday in New York expressed optimism about reaching an agreement soon, while noting that differences remain.
On Friday, Representatives Richard Neal of Massachusetts and New Jersey’s Bill Pascrell sent a letter to Ryan asking the speaker to explain his shifting deadline for Nafta notification. “What happens now?” wrote Neal, the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means committee, and Pascrell, who also sits on the panel. “We cannot sit back and be satisfied with the status quo.”
The Senate’s second-highest ranking Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, plans to send a letter to Lighthizer warning that Trump’s ultimatum to withdraw from the pact would be a dangerous negotiating tactic.
“A take-it or leave-it strategy could have negative unintended effects that jeopardize American jobs and economic growth,” according to a copy of the letter obtained by Bloomberg on Thursday.
Bipartisan support for a modernized Nafta is “only achievable through a strategy to constructively engage members of Congress” as required under procedures set out in the Trade Priorities and Accountability Act and “without attempting to force a choice between negative outcomes,” Cornyn said, according to the letter.
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