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World

Mexico Outlines Goals For Upcoming NAFTA Trade Deal Negotiations

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Negotiators from the U.S., Mexico and Canada will attempt tomorrow to overhaul the world's largest trade pact, the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA. It was ratified more than 20 years ago before the tech boom. All sides agreed that it's time for an update. President Trump is one of the trade pact's biggest critics. He says he'll see what the negotiators come up with, but if he doesn't like it, he'll pull the U.S. out of NAFTA. Mexican negotiators are hoping cooler heads prevail and that they can preserve the deal they consider a boon for their country. From Mexico City, NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: In the outdoor food court of a shopping mall in Mexico City's upscale Polanco neighborhood, Astrid Lara sits with her two dogs, Canela and Merlin.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

KAHN: She's enjoying a cup of Starbucks coffee, a Krispy Kreme donut and waiting for the mall's anchor store to open.

ASTRID LARA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "I have a Costco membership card," she says, which she regularly uses to buy her favorite U.S. brand dog food here as well as U.S.-exported clothes and the U.S.-brand hand lotion she can't do without.

LARA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "There's always been U.S. products here in Mexico," says the 34-year-old graphic designer, "always." Well, for her generation, that's true. But for 54-year-old Carlos Bravo Regidor, a history and journalism professor at Mexico City's CIDE institute, shopping back in the 1980s, early 1990s before NAFTA was much different.

CARLOS BRAVO REGIDOR: When I was a little kid, certain products from the U.S. were brought to Mexico illegally. We have a term for that. It's called fayuca.

KAHN: That fayuca, or contraband, was expensive - everything from VCRs to TVs and, his favorites...

BRAVO: The American chocolates - Snickers, Milky Ways. They were treasures.

KAHN: Bravo, interviewed over Skype, says no one believes the NAFTA renegotiation talks will bring back those days despite President Trump's threats to pull out of the trade pact or impose a border tax. The two economies are much too tied to each other, now trading more than a billion dollars of goods every day. Besides, adds economist Luis de la Calle, Mexico has gotten used to Trump's menacing tweets.

LUIS DE LA CALLE: Well, you can see that in the exchange rate.

KAHN: After taking a 20 percent plunge the night Trump was elected president, it's since recovered. A stronger peso shows more confidence in Mexico going into the talks, says de la Calle, who helped broker the original NAFTA agreement.

DE LA CALLE: That doesn't mean that negotiations will be easy or that negotiating with the Trump administration will be a picnic. It will not.

KAHN: The U.S. has a strong team at the table, but de la Calle says so does Mexico, including the new foreign minister, who has a friendly relationship with Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Mexico's industrial leaders are showing more optimism, too, especially Eduardo Solis, the president of Mexico's automotive manufacturers, a sector of the economy that has benefited most from NAFTA.

EDUARDO SOLIS: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We are optimistic but cautious," Solis told reporters. He's pushing for preserving the status quo, especially when it comes to how much North American content must be in a Mexican-produced car. President Trump has threatened to raise those levels, which would make Mexico a less attractive destination for foreign car manufacturers.

But not all in Mexico agree with the do-no-harm mantra. Senator Dolores Padierna Luna of the leftist PRD party wants more in the new pact to raise Mexican wages and worker protections which in the past were left to weak NAFTA's side agreements. She says the current administration has no interest in taking up that cause.

DOLORES PADIERNA LUNA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We have a government on its way out," she says. "It should not be negotiating this important trade deal." In fact, the current administration's term ends in December of 2018. Negotiators hope they can conclude talks before Mexico's presidential campaign ramps up. The current frontrunner, also a leftist candidate, is not a fan of NAFTA. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.

(SOUNDBITE OF MILKY CHANCE SONG, "STOLEN DANCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.