Canadian Foreign Affairs minister Chrystia Freeland (L) and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer at the close of the latest round of NAFTA negotiations in Montreal
. ©AFP

Ottawa (AFP) – Talks aimed at revamping the North American Free Trade Agreement have advanced slowly, a US trade official said Monday, while holding out hope for breakthroughs in the next round of talks.

Negotiators from Canada, the United States and Mexico bore down on key issues in weeklong talks in Montreal, averting a feared collapse of the bloc, which binds together nearly 500 million consumers.

With Washington accusing Canada of intransigence, Ottawa changed tack and presented new proposals on several key sticking points.

While Canada and the United States remain at odds over the amount of their trade imbalance, the Americans did not outright reject Canada’s ideas on the auto sector, dispute settlement and a periodic NAFTA review in lieu of a sunset clause proposed by US President Donald Trump.

“We finally began to discuss some of the core issues.So, this round was a step forward.But we are progressing very slowly,” US trade representative Robert Lighthizer told a news conference.

“We’ll work hard between now and the beginning of the next round (in Mexico at the end of February) and we hope for major breakthroughs during that period,” Lighthizer said.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said she was “pleased with the progress that has been achieved here this week.”

“Canadians do not view trade as a zero sum game in which one side must lose in order for the other to win,” she said.

“We’ve also said from the outset, last August, that we believe that NAFTA must be updated and improved and that the benefits of trade must flow more broadly to more people in order for that trade to be sustainable.”

Mexico’s secretary of the economy, Ildefonso Guajardo, meanwhile, said progress was made on anti-corruption, customs and trade facilitation, and information and communication technologies.

He also said the parties were close to wrapping up annexes on chemicals and pharmaceuticals