Two of the highest-level trade officials representing the U.S. and Mexico worked through the day Friday and into the night trying to reach an agreement on the replacement to the North American Free Trade Agreement, but fell short of a deal that both countries could accept.

Talks between Jesús Seade, Mexico’s top North American negotiator, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer may continue Saturday, said Seade, who noted that Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland called in during the roughly 10 hours of negotiations. Friday was the second of all-day negotiating sessions this week between Seade and Lighthizer.

“We’re dealing with the last issues remaining,” Seade told reporters after leaving USTR headquarters. “Difficult issues. We need to get it right.”

Mexico has already ratified the core U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, but is pushing back on additional demands from both the White House and House Democrats.

One is a recent demand from the Trump administration that Mexico limit the amount of steel and aluminum from non-USMCA countries in the cars and car parts the country exports to the U.S. and Canada.

Seade stressed the steel and aluminum demand was an important issue that is yet to be resolved.

Another point of contention is a demand from House Democrats that inspectors be allowed to enter Mexican factories to ensure compliance with newly-approved labor reforms that allow workers to unionize and rewrite contracts.

That has proven to be controversial, and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has recently railed against the proposal, saying it violated Mexican sovereignty.

Seade has previously stressed the importance of sovereignty to reporters and stressed that Mexico may not agree to USMCA changes that are demanded by the U.S.

“We are very willing to find mechanisms … provided it’s all done in a manner that is consistent with our constitution and laws and our sovereignty,” Seade said in a November interview. “We cannot just reopen anything that may not be acceptable.”

Seade said he is optimistic that a deal to save USMCA could be reached.

“Everything can be resolved,” he told reporters. “We’re making good progress. I’m confident this is going to reach home. We’re working to get the best deal.”

But if the deal that Mexico agrees to differs from what House Democrats are demanding, that could further complicate the process.

Still, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., expressed optimism Friday, saying the USMCA implementing bill could be on the House floor as soon as next week. 

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