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Trump administration poised to reveal goals for NAFTA talks

Monday - 17/07/2017 14:26
United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is expected to release today his negotiating objectives ahead of talks to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement next month. 1

United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is expected to release today his negotiating objectives ahead of talks to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement next month.

The goals for the renegotiation, as well as the Trump administration's rationale for how these objectives will lead to an agreement beneficial to the U.S., must be published on the USTR website, as required by Congress in accordance with the trade promotion authority granted to the White House for renegotiating a standing agreement like this.

Formal talks to revise NAFTA are expected to start next month. Such objectives must be published 30 days in advance.

The Canadian government is not required to publish its negotiating objectives ahead of the formal talks, expected to start on or shortly after Aug. 17. The location for these talks has not been finalized yet.

While Canada has been consulting formally and informally — an official consultation period expires Tuesday — politicians, officials and negotiators have been talking to affected industries for weeks to prepare Canada's bargaining positions.

They're expected to continue to do so throughout the process, although Parliament does not require the kind of transparency Congress does.

"The other NAFTA parties — Canada and Mexico ... their position has been: the U.S. wanted to re-open this and modernize it. We're just coming along," International trade lawyer Dan Ujczo told CBC News last week. "So I think in some ways the U.S. is going to set the agenda."

"If it comes out really short and sweet with a very narrow set of lists, that's indicating that they want to get this done as quick as possible," he said. But if it isn't a deep dive, Ujczo expects Congress to demand more specifics.

Congressional review tomorrow

The House of Representatives ways and means committee's subcommittee on trade has already scheduled a meeting to review these negotiating objectives Tuesday.

Mexico has presidential elections next year, which along with U.S. midterm elections, could make for a tricky political environment in which to gain approval for any renegotiated text.

"Canada and Mexico are letting the U.S. come up with their wishlist, and reacting to that," he said, only mobilizing when the Americans overstep what they're comfortable with, as they did in April when Trump threatened to tear up the agreement and farm groups vigourously protested to make it clear to the White House the deal is a net gain for them.

"It's been very reactive to this point," he said.

The Canadian government has not scheduled any press conferences, but may issue a statement once the objectives are published.

The letter Lighthizer sent to Congressional leaders in late May to begin the required 90-day consultation period on NAFTA was brief — in a smaller font and slim margins it could have fit on one page — and lacked detail.

It referred to the need to "support higher-paying jos" and grow the economy by improving NAFTA. The letter emphasized how the agreement was negotiated 25 years ago and has not been changed since to reflect "modern standards." In particular, it mentioned digital trade, and new provisions on:

  •     Intellectual property rights.
  •     Regulatory practices.
  •     state-owned enterprises.
  •     Services.
  •     Customs procedures.
  •     Sanitary and phytosanitary measures.
  •     Labour.
  •     Environment.
  •     Small and medium enterprises.

The May letter also explicitly referred to "aggressive enforcement" of commitments made by trading partners. But it was silent on specific controversial trade issues that may or may not be included in the eventual talks.


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