Washington, Nov 15 (IANS) US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has warned the breakup of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) will be devastating for Mexico, adding the goal is to reach a new trade deal by March 2018.

During his participation in a business conference organized by the daily Wall Street Journal in Washington to discuss renegotiating the trade partnership bonding the US, Mexico and Canada, Ross on Tuesday said the idea was to reach an agreement by next March, Efe news reported.

Despite the doubts caused by the scant progress made during the last negotiating round in October, and the repeated threats by US President Donald Trump about abandoning NAFTA if key items of the agreement aren't rewritten, the commerce secretary insisted that the US would prefer that Canada and Mexico "come to their senses and make a sensible deal."

The end of NAFTA "would be far more damaging to them than to us," Ross said, adding that for the US, no agreement would be better than a bad agreement.

A US withdrawal "would be devastating to the Mexican economy," he said with reference to the great dependence of Mexican exports on the US market, which represents close to 80 per cent of their total.

The words of the commerce secretary came just days before the fifth round of NAFTA talks begins in Mexico between November 17-21.

After the last round held in Washington last October, the chief US negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, said that scarcely any progress had been made and criticized the "intransigence" of Canada and Mexico for refusing to give up their "unfair advantages."

In a serious tone, Mexican Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo replied that where Washington sees intransigence, they see "good sense."

Notable among Washington's demands were an increase in the quota of products made in the US, above all in the automotive sector, and a sunset clause obliging the review of the trade pact every five years, followed by its suspension if one of its three members did not agree to extend it.

--IANS

pgh/