"Totally false," U.S. Trade Representative Carla A. Hills snaps at suggestions that the White House declared premature victory in North American free-trade talks to announce a deal in time for August's Republican Convention. Hills blames the month-long delay in unveiling a final version of the U.S.-Canada-Mexico free-trade agreement on the need for lawyers to "scrub" the text for technical errors and translation problems.

But it turns out that well into September, negotiators for the three nations were still meeting in Washington to resolve substantive differences. Even after the deal was announced, Mexico was trying to win the right to exclude imports of any cars that don't meet the agreement's standard of 62.5% North American content. But Ottawa and Washington insisted--successfully--that Mexico could impose a tariff on such cars yet not block them. And bargainers for the U.S. and Canada were still at work on a side agreement to end a dispute over the duty-free status of Honda Civics built in Ontario. Ottawa is challenging last March's U.S. Customs Service ruling that levies a $17 million tariff against Canadian-made Hondas containing too many Japanese parts to qualify as made in North America.

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