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Trade deficit top priority in Nafta talks, says US

US, Mexico & Canada would meet in Washington to discuss logistics of the talks

Lesley Wroughton & David Lawder | Reuters  |  Washington 

US trade deficit
A truck heading for Canada, exit onto the Ambassador Bridge in the US. Experts argue that shrinking the US trade deficit will be achieved by boosting savings, not through trade deals | Photo: Reuters

The on Monday launched the first salvo in the renegotiation of the 23-year-old (Nafta), saying its top priority for the talks was shrinking the with and

In a much-anticipated document sent to lawmakers, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said he would seek to reduce the trade imbalance by improving access for US goods exported to and under the three-nation pact.

For the first time in a US trade deal, the administration also said it wants an “appropriate” provision to deter manipulation by trading partners. The move appeared aimed at future trade deals rather than specifically at and Mexico, which are not considered manipulators.

The 17-page document asserted that no country should manipulate its exchange rate to gain an unfair competitive advantage, an often-cited complaint about in past years.

Shortly before the release of the document, President lashed out against trade deals and unfair trade practices, saying he would take more and regulatory steps during the next six months to protect

Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland said the US list was “part of its internal process” although a source familiar with the Canadian government’s thinking said the document was “not earth shattering.”

The source said officials from the United States, and would meet in on Tuesday to discuss logistics of the talks. No date has been announced for the talks, but they are expected in mid-August.

Mexico’s economy ministry said in a statement it would work “to achieve a constructive negotiation process that will allow trade and investment flows to increase and consolidates cooperation and economic integration to strengthen North American competitiveness.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior Mexican government official said the list of priorities was “not as bad as I was expecting” and welcomed that the was not pushing to impose punitive tariffs, as has threatened.

Trade experts have argued that shrinking the yawning will not be achieved through trade deals but rather by boosting US savings.

“The first bullet point shows their pre-occupation with bilateral trade deficits and that’s unfortunate,” said Chad Bown, a senior fellow and trade expert at the Peterson Institute for Economics. “There’s not much that trade policy and trade agreements can do to change those. That’s more of a macroeconomic issue.”

Among the priorities, Lighthizer said the administration would seek to eliminate a trade dispute mechanism that has largely prohibited the from pursuing anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases against Canadian and Mexican firms.