A recent U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) news release stated that the NAFTA renegotiation is planned to commence between August 16th and 20th, and it has been reported that there will be seven rounds of talks which will be held every three weeks in order to conclude the process before Mexico’s 2018 presidential elections. Last month, as we reported, the USTR published its specific objectives for the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as required by the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015. Acknowledging that the NAFTA, since its entry into force in 1994, has linked the continent through trade and provided new market access opportunities for American farmers and ranchers, the USTR nonetheless stated that the NAFTA has also created new problems for many American workers. The USTR requested public comments from interested parties with regard to the modernization of the NAFTA, and held a public hearing at the International Trade Commission. The USTR received more than 12,000 written responses and heard the testimony of more than 140 witnesses during the hearing, representing various industry sectors. The majority of comments that were submitted, as well as the testimony presented, reflected U.S. industries’ support of the NAFTA because of increased U.S. exports to Mexico and Canada since 1994. They also urged that negotiations should not jeopardize existing market access gains and that the key negotiating principle should be, “Do No Harm” as suggested previously by USTR Lighthizer during his testimony before a House of Representatives Committee in June.
The USTR stated that its overall goals will be to break down barriers to American exports through the elimination of unfair subsidies, market-distorting practices by state-owned enterprises, and burdensome restrictions of intellectual property. The USTR also intends to work to modernize the NAFTA, address America’s trade imbalances in North America, and ensure that the United States obtains more open, equitable, secure, and reciprocal market access. The stated objectives reflect many (though not all) of the items on the wish lists of various U.S. industry sectors, as offered in the public comments and testimony provided to the USTR. Even though the USTR would maintain existing reciprocal duty-free market access for trade in goods (including agricultural products), there was no specific mention of the application of the “do no harm” principle for the jobs, businesses and industries that currently depend upon that trade with Canada and Mexico. Many industry sectors urged the Administration to maintain current NAFTA benefits and to avoid disrupting the demand for U.S. exports.