Mexico will seek better deal in renegotiated NAFTA: minister

Mexican Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo warned Mexico would not accept increased US tariffs as part of revisions to the North American Free Trade Agreement

Mexico's trade minister said he hopes talks on revising the free-trade deal with the United States can begin by mid-June but cautioned any negotiations will require upgrades for Mexico and Canada as well.

But Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo warned that Mexico would not accept increased US tariffs as part of the revisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"There is no way I can go back to Mexico with an agreement that does not represent an advancement in Mexican interests. That is just a reality politically," Guajardo said in a speech to the Detroit Economic Club.

NAFTA is 23 years old and in need of modernizing, said Guajardo, who was part of the Mexican team that negotiated the trade pact in the early 1990s. "We didn't even have cell phones" then, he said.

US President Donald Trump, who has slammed NAFTA as a disaster for the American economy, must notify Congress that he plans to reopen the deal, but talks cannot begin for 90 days after that under US law.

Guajardo said he hoped negotiations could begin by the middle of June. The official expects to meet with his US counterpart, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, in Washington next week.

"At the end of day there are many things that can improve NAFTA," he said. The key "to get this final agreement to a safe landing is that the final agreement is a win, win, win agreement for the three nations."

Mexico's negotiators are open to changes that should appeal to Washington, he said, such as greater protection for intellectual property rights, and e-commerce, an area where the United States has a clear edge.

"We think this can be a very positive engagement," Guajardo said of the impending talks.

He rejected one of the main criticisms leveled by Trump at the trade pact: that it has stolen jobs from Americans.

Job losses attributed to NAFTA can actually be traced back to the rising use of automation in manufacturing, Guajardo said.

"The challenges are not that 700 jobs moved from Indiana to San Luis Potosi. The challenge is much greater," he said. "I do believe that NAFTA has been a great success."

Mexico is a much more valuable trading partner than standard trade statistics suggest, he said. While Mexico runs a $60 billion trade surplus with the United States, it has a deficit in services, where US firms are dominant.

Revising the pact to encourage greater competition in the telecommunication and financial sectors could yield major benefits for Mexico, he said.

Guajardo was in Detroit to meet with executives from automakers General Motors and Ford which have been under pressure from the Trump administration to move jobs from plants in Mexico back to the United States.