U.S., Mexico Near Sugar Pact Agreement

The U.S. and Mexico are nearing an agreement that would avert a trade war over Mexican sugar exports, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Monday.

"We are quite optimistic that our two nations are on the precipice of an agreement we can all support," Mr. Ross said in a statement. "The two sides have come together in quite meaningful ways," Mr. Ross added.

At the same time, the Commerce secretary said negotiators won't produce a final pact before the end of the day, Monday -- the deadline he had set last month to fix new limits on Mexican sugar sales in the U.S. before Washington would impose steep duties on the imports.

As a result, Mr. Ross said he would extend the deadline by 24 hours, until the end of day Tuesday, June 6, "to allow the two sides to complete final technical consultations."

The American sugar industry has complained that Mexican competitors have been unfairly dumping -- or selling below cost -- their products in the U.S. market, aided by improper government subsidies, seeking new limits on the imports. The Mexican sugar industry has said that if the U.S. imposed duties on their sales, they would seek retaliatory barriers on American high-fructose corn syrup, which dominates the Mexican market.

A spokesman for Mexico's Economy Ministry had no immediate comment on the extension or the talks.

The Commerce Department didn't disclose details of the emerging agreement, but it is likely to include tighter limits on the amounts and types of sugar products Mexicans can sell in the U.S.

The roots of the dispute go back to 2008, when free trade in sugar between the two countries was phased in under the 1993 terms fixed by North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada. The subsequent surge in Mexican sugar exports prompted U.S. industry complaints.

The Obama administration threatened to impose penalties on Mexican imports, but "suspended" the duties when the two sides in 2014 negotiated a settlement that imposed quotas and price controls on Mexican exports. After initially accepting the pact, U.S. producers began complaining that it wasn't working as intended, and a year later renewed their push for sanctions, prompting the latest round of talks.

--Anthony Harrup in Mexico City contributed to this article.

Write to Jacob M. Schlesinger at jacob.schlesinger@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 05, 2017 16:22 ET (20:22 GMT)