Mexico minister says can't yet see common ground to finish NAFTA talks

US demands an end to Canada's supply management

He, in turn, lambasted the two leaders as they were standing right next to him during a televised news conference.

With Canada and Mexico firmly rejecting US demands on dairy, autos and other areas, the retail industry group that represents companies including Gap Inc. and VF Corp. said the collapse of the trade agreement would be an "economic catastrophe".

Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. Trade Representative, didn't mince words in response to the criticism.

"We have a lot of trade, a lot of reasons to trade".

Mexico and Canada have repeatedly and publicly denounced USA demands as the fourth round of talks concludes.

"The exchange rate reflects different kinds of uncertainties, many of which we can not control, such as the normalization process of interest rates in the United States", said Meade, speaking at an event in Mexico City.

US opposition to NAFTA's dispute resolution mechanisms, plans to restrict outside access to government contracts and attacks on Canadian dairy and softwood lumber producers are all causing friction behind the scenes, officials say.

Despite a two-day extension, talks this week ended without any progress on a few key issues.

Scott Miller, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said United States officials were advancing some positions - particular fresh content requirements for auto manufacturing - that were likely to be non-starters for USA industry and lawmakers. Freeland also made it clear that Canada opposed an American proposal to rewrite how companies resolve disputes.

Sources close to the Canadian and Mexican delegations told AFP that while U.S. demands were tough, both countries were committed to continuing with the talks. They have also put forward a clause, called "twilight" that could put an end to the NAFTA by five years.

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"There are other elements which are Mexico-specific". Both counties also oppose US proposals designed to create jobs for American auto manufacturers by putting more stringent limits on how much of a vehicle can be made outside of North America to qualify for immunity to import taxes in the three NAFTA countries.

The U.S. proposed raising that threshold to 85%, according to the Canadian government source.

Those questioning the White House's approach to the trade talks, including business and agriculture groups, have said leaving NAFTA would cause serious damage to the US economy because the three countries are now so integrated.

Washington has also called for an end to certain forms of trade dispute arbitration and for USA content requirements for auto manufacturing, which the auto industry itself opposes.

The Mexican source would not comment on rules of origin.

Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo struck a more positive tone than both Freeland and Lighthizer, saying the extension of the talks showed the three parties were "giving ourselves an opportunity to find a solution".

One person close to the process said there was now a possibility that negotiations to modernize NAFTA, which underpins some $1.2 trillion in annual trade between the three countries, could collapse.

If the deal falls apart there is no economic analysis as to what would happen but Lighthizer said "my guess is all three countries would do just fine". Critics say it would create too much uncertainty for foreign investment.

This week's talks were extended by 48 hours to a full week to allow additional bargaining time for delegations from the United States, Mexico and Canada.

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