The US, Canada and Mexico have concluded the first round of talks over a potential renegotiation of the terms of the tripartite North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Representatives from the three nations met in Washington DC for five days from August 16th in order to discuss proposals for reworking the deal, which has been strongly criticized by US president Donald Trump for its allegedly negative impact on the US.
During the initial round of talks, more than two dozen different negotiation topics were covered, with all three countries offering detailed conceptual presentations on the scope of the agreement, as well as engaging with stakeholders including representatives of the private sector, industry associations, labor groups, legislative representatives and state officials.
US trade representative Robert Lighthizer has set out a hardline stance on behalf of the US president, saying the current NAFTA arrangements have "failed" Americans, citing significant trade deficits, lost manufacturing jobs and business relocating from the US.
However, Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland defended the deal, saying trade surpluses or deficits should not be seen as "a primary measure of whether a trading relationship works", while Mexican economy minister Ildefonso Guajardo called for an agreement that benefits all three nations.
A trilateral statement from the three participating countries said: "While a great deal of effort and negotiation will be required in the coming months, Canada, Mexico and the US are committed to an accelerated and comprehensive negotiation process that will upgrade our agreement and establish 21st century standards to the benefit of our citizens."
However, the optimistic sentiment behind this joint statement has since been undercut by President Trump, who expressed scepticism at a recent rally of supporters in Arizona that a deal could be done, while adding: "I think we'll end up probably terminating NAFTA at some point."
A second round of talks will take place in Mexico from September 1st to 5th, before moving to Canada in late September and returning to the US in October, with additional rounds planned for the remainder of the year.