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The three NAFTA countries failed to reach a preliminary deal to alter the pact at a high-level meeting Friday, but agreed to make a full-court press over the coming days to hammer out an agreement.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said she made progress in a day of discussions with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo. Professional negotiators from the three countries will continue meeting to sort out technical details while Ms. Freeland will keep in regular contact with Mr. Lighthizer and Mr. Guajardo.

But Ms. Freeland would not put a timeline on reaching an agreement in principle.

“We have entered over the past couple of weeks, very much including today, a new, more intensive phase of engagement,” she told reporters after emerging from Mr. Lighthizer’s office near the White House. “We’re going to take the time it takes to get a good deal.”

Sources with knowledge of the discussions said it is still unclear exactly what the scope of an agreement will be: a limited deal that covers only the crucial auto sector while punting other tough issues to future negotiations; a more expansive pact that settles several contentious issues in principle while leaving details to be worked out; or a complete agreement that makes a handful of changes while leaving other sections of NAFTA untouched.

Also undecided is whether the three countries will meet the U.S.’s goal of having something to announce next week at the Summit of the Americas in Peru.

One insider said no further meetings are currently planned between Ms. Freeland, Mr. Lighthizer and Mr. Guajardo, but did not rule out the possibility that they could reconvene next week if negotiators make significant progress.

Negotiations over the past month have focused almost entirely on autos. The current stumbling block is a U.S. demand that North American content requirements be tied to wages, incentivizing auto makers to source vehicle parts from factories that pay workers more than US$15 an hour, insiders have said.

The measure is designed to discourage the creation of auto jobs in Mexico – where workers earn the equivalent of US$3 – fulfilling one of President Donald Trump’s key campaign promises. It would also give Canada a victory in its quest to improve labour standards in NAFTA.

Mexico, however, has been fighting the proposal.

In a statement, the Mexican government said the three countries are aiming to “boost” the negotiating process. “The three ministers will remain in continuous contact in order to remain up to the minute on the evolution of the process,” it said.

In Mexico City, the country’s deputy minister for industry and commerce said he was hopeful for a swift resolution.

“I’m very convinced and have a good expectation that we will reach an agreement on the free-trade agreement very, very soon,” Rogelio Garza said.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a briefing that the U.S. had “made great progress on NAFTA.”

The U.S. wants a fast deal to get NAFTA out of the way while it focuses on its confrontation with China over trade. Mexico, meanwhile, is hoping to conclude talks before the campaign for its July 1 presidential election heats up.

Brett House, deputy chief economist at the Bank of Nova Scotia, said that Canada and Mexico have “maximum leverage” at the moment because the U.S. so badly wants an agreement. And he said that the notion of a preliminary deal is so badly defined that it shouldn’t be hard to agree to something.

“There is no standard for an agreement in principle: It could be anything or nothing. If they want it to be a victory, it can be a victory,” he said in an interview. “The standard is so light.”

Talks were deadlocked for seven months over tough protectionist demands by the U.S. Then, in early March, Mr. Lighthizer indicated at the bargaining table that he could be flexible on the crucial autos issue – and dropped a proposal that would have forced vehicles made in Canada and Mexico and bound for export to the U.S. to contain 50-per-cent American content. This kick-started negotiations.

Besides autos, also at stake in the talks are U.S. demands on Buy American procurement rules – which Mr. Lighthizer wants to tighten to put limits on Canadian and Mexican companies bidding on U.S. government contracts – and NAFTA’s dispute-resolution chapters, which Mr. Lighthizer wants to abolish or weaken.

“We’re all working very hard to try to make as much progress as we can in as short a period of time,” David MacNaughton, Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S., said as he left talks Friday. “There are lots of issues and we’re working hard on all of them. … I don’t think anybody’s disappointed.”