EU and Mexico accelerate free trade talks as Donald Trump threatens to tear up NAFTA

Announcement comes amid 'worrying rise of protectionism around the world”, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström

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The Independent Online

The European Union and Mexico will speed up negotiations to seal a free trade pact, as US President Donald Trump threatens to pull out of a deal with its Central American neighbour, hit the country with punitive border taxes and make it pay for a border wall.

The move has been triggered by a “worrying rise of protectionism around the world”, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, and the minister of economy of Mexico, Ildefonso Guajardo said in a statement on Wednesday.

The pair said they would hold additional rounds of meetings in April and June as well as further talks in Mexico City.

“Side by side, as like-minded partners, we must now stand up for the idea of global, open cooperation,” the two said.

“We are already well underway in our joint efforts to deepen openness to trade on both sides. Now, we will accelerate the pace of these talks in order to reap the benefits sooner." 

Mexico faces the prospect of a renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement and higher US import duties which could be disastrous for its economy.

Mexico exported $316.4bn (£250bn) of goods and services to the US in 2015, according to US government figures. 

During the TV debates ahead of the 2016 election, Mr Trump called NAFTA “the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere, but certainly ever signed in this country”. He has repeatedly blamed the agreement for taking US manufacturing jobs and has threatened companies such as Ford and General Motors with punitive border taxes if they continue to produce goods there.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto cancelled a planned trip to Washington last week after Mr Trump reiterated his demand that Mexico pay for a wall spanning the border between the two countries.

European leaders have said Brussels should take advantage of a more protectionist US leader, who has already withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, to step up negotiations with would-be partners.

The European Union is Mexico's third largest trading partner after the US and China. Trade between the EU and Mexico more than doubled to €53bn from €26bn between 2005 and 2015, according to the European Commission.