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U.S. pushing for NAFTA deal as Thursday deadline approaches

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05/16/2018 | 10:48pm CEST
U.S. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds the daily briefing at the White House in Washington

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is still pushing for a deal to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the White House said on Wednesday, while a top Mexican official held out the possibility of an agreement in the coming weeks.

President Donald Trump is committed to getting a better agreement with Canada and Mexico, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told Fox News.

"We still want to see something happen and we're going to continue in those conversations. They're ongoing now and we're pushing forward and hopeful that we can get something done soon," said Sanders.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said that the Republican-controlled Congress would need to be notified of a new deal by Thursday to give lawmakers a chance to approve it before a newly elected Congress takes over in January.

Sanders did not address Ryan's timeline, but said Trump was adamant he would get a deal "that works for America."

"He's not going to stop until he gets it," she added.

Mexico's economy minister Ildefonso Guajardo reiterated that Thursday was not a feasible deadline.

"However, I would not rule out at any point, if the participants show the willingness, that we can settle this negotiation at any moment from the close of May onwards, or in June," the minister told Mexican radio.

Guajardo said it was not yet clear when the ministers from Mexico, Canada and the United States responsible for negotiating NAFTA would meet again.

Ryan himself told reporters at the U.S. Capitol that Congress cannot begin working on the negotiating law known as "fast track" without a trade deal in hand.

"The point is, we can't work a bill unless we have an agreement that's in writing that we can work on, and that hasn't occurred yet," Ryan said.

Chief Mexican NAFTA negotiator Kenneth Smith said that the administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto had a responsibility to keep negotiating until Mexico's new president, who will be elected on July 1, takes office on Dec. 1.

If a NAFTA deal is not reached before the election, Mexico's negotiators will work closely with the incoming government's transition team, Smith told Mexican radio.

U.S. Representative Kevin Brady, the chairman of the tax and trade-focused House Ways and Means Committee, said there was probably little room to go past the Thursday deadline for a deal and still get a new NAFTA approved by year end.

Leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is leading polls to win the Mexican presidential race. His pick for economy minister, Graciela Marquez, has said his administration would be willing to accept a deal struck before the election.

(Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa, Frank Jack Daniel, Anthony Esposito and Dave Graham in Mexico City; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and James Dalgleish)

By Doina Chiacu and David Lawder

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