US VP Pence thanks Canada for backing Syria strikes, optimistic on NAFTA

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US trade negotiators have reduced their demand for regional auto content under a reworked NAFTA trade deal to 75 percent from the 85 percent they had sought, the head of Mexico's automotive industry association (AMIA), said on Friday.

"I'll leave this summit very hopeful that we are very close to a renegotiated NAFTA", and "there is a real possibility that we could arrive at an agreement within the next several weeks", Pence told reporters at the Summit of the Americas in Lima.

The decades-old trilateral trade agreement has been a frequent target of President Trump, who has criticized large trade deficits the US has with Mexico and Canada, as well as the relocation of American jobs and companies.

"The goal of this meeting is not only to address the issue of NAFTA, but also to talk about the bilateral relationship, which should continue to be based on cooperation and mutual respect", Pena Nieto said.

Trump and Pena Nieto have yet to meet in person since Trump became president past year.

Pence, who was also scheduled to meet with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, struck a notably confident tone, saying USA officials "think we're close" and were "encouraged at the progress of our negotiations".

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Canada and the USA stood shoulder-to-shoulder on Saturday as they condemned the Syrian government's alleged use of chemical weapons on civilians and sounded a positive note about the ongoing North American free trade talks. Pence took Trump's place at the summit so the president could remain in the U.S.to manage the response to the apparent chemical attack by Syria.

"The United States is ready to respond, to defend our forces", Pence said.

While President Donald Trump has vowed to scrap NAFTA and pull out of trade agreements as part of his America First policy, most of the region has been moving in the opposite direction. He was sworn in after Peru's congress voted to accept the resignation of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski after a corruption scandal.

Later, speaking in a cavernous hall of world leaders at the Summit of the Americas, Pence expressed gratitude to Canada, Colombia and other nations that had voiced support for the strike and urged "every nation in this hemisphere of freedom" to support the military action.

There had been hopes leading up to this weekend's summit that an agreement might be signed, but that did not happen and instead, USA negotiators softened their demands on autos even as Trump said he will to renegotiate "forever".

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