Remarkable progress has been made but contentious issues remain in the talks on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as the United States, Canada and Mexico concluded a third round of talks on Wednesday.
The three NAFTA parties said at the end of the five-day talks that much work remains to conclude the negotiations by the end of the year.
Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told a press conference that there had been "five very productive days."
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said some issues related to small-and medium-size enterprises were resolved, but an enormous amount of work still needs to be done on other difficult matters.
Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said his country will continue to seek tangible benefits for all countries from the renegotiations, while he admitted that substantial challenges lie ahead for the next round in Washington on Oct. 11-15.
"We have the ambition, we have the strength to try to move forward with a view to closing a negotiation but no one can assure with total certainty that we will be able to do it," Guajardo said.
The talks saw "significant" advances in such areas as the consolidation of proposals, which was one of the objectives for this round of talks.
From now on, negotiators will work from consolidated texts in most areas, instead of having to look at separate proposals from the three sides.
"Meaningful advancements were made in the areas of telecommunications, competition policy, digital trade, good regulatory practices, and customs and trade facilitation," according to a joint declaration by the three countries.
The three NAFTA parties exchanged "initial offers in the area of market access for government procurement."
The statement made no mention of some of the toughest issues facing the negotiators, including rules of origin and Chapter 19 for dispute resolution.
Trade among the three nations has quadrupled since NAFTA came into effect in 1994, surpassing 1 trillion U.S. dollars in 2015.
However, the agreement now is being renegotiated at the demand of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has lambasted the trade deal as having hurt American manufacturing and jobs.
A total of seven rounds of discussions are planned for the NAFTA renegotiations. All parties hope to conclude the process by late 2017 or early 2018 though some trade experts dismissed the deadline as impossible.