Mexican Economy Minister Idelfonso Guajardo -- shown here in March -- says a NAFTA deal by week's end is unlikely

Mexico City (AFP) - Mexico said Tuesday it does not expect to reach a deal with the United States and Canada on an updated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) by the informal deadline set by the US Congress for later this week.

“The possibility of finishing the negotiations between now and Thursday isn’t easy. We don’t believe it will happen by Thursday,” Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo, head of the Mexican negotiating team, told TV network Televisa.

The speaker of the US House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, has said he needs the written agreement by Thursday if Congress is to approve NAFTA this year, while the Republicans have a majority.

The electoral calendar is pressuring negotiators to wrap up a deal as soon as possible in both the US and Mexico.

US Republicans could lose their majority in November mid-term elections, while Mexico is counting down to a presidential election on July 1 that could bring a leftist free trade skeptic, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, to power.

Guajardo said as far as Mexico was concerned, the US deadline was not a deal-breaker.

“We will keep negotiating. There are different times when we can wrap up these negotiations. It could be before the Mexican elections on July 1, or it could be just after,” he said.

“What changes if it happens after July 1? The responsibility of the transition team named by whoever wins the election” would come into play, he said.

From Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s standpoint, Guajardo said, the only deadline is December 1 – the end of his term.

The Mexican minister said US President Donald Trump, who has railed against the 1994 trade deal as the worst ever signed, was coming around to its importance – though he remained unpredictable.

“President Trump can wake up one day and say whatever he wants. The only thing that has happened over time, and which has been a positive part of these negotiations, is that he has evaluated the importance of the agreement to his own supporters, the agricultural sector, Republican governors, Republicans in Congress,” he said.

Launched in August at Trump’s behest, the talks have hit several stumbling blocks, in particular over US demands to increase the amount of American content in cars.