WASHINGTON — United States Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer has released a detailed and comprehensive summary of the negotiating objectives for the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Through the renegotiation of NAFTA, the Trump administration will seek a much better agreement that reduces the U.S. trade deficit and is fair for all Americans by improving market access in Canada and Mexico for U.S. manufacturing, agriculture and services, Lighthizer said.
In addition to President Donald Trump being the first American president to begin renegotiating a comprehensive free trade agreement like NAFTA, for the first time USTR has included deficit reduction as a specific objective for the NAFTA negotiations.
Since NAFTA was implemented in 1994, the U.S. bilateral goods trade balance with Mexico has gone from a $1.3 billion surplus to a $64 billion deficit in 2016, the USTR said.
Market access issues have arisen in Canada with respect to dairy, wine, grain and other products — barriers that the current agreement is unequipped to address.
The negotiating objectives also include adding a digital economy chapter and incorporating and strengthening labor and environment obligations that are currently in NAFTA side agreements. Additionally, among other objectives, the administration “will work to eliminate unfair subsidies, market-distorting practices by state owned enterprises and burdensome restrictions on intellectual property,” stated a USTR news release.
“The negotiating objectives aim to apply the highest standards covering the broadest possible range of goods and services to ensure truly free and fair trade that supports higher-paying jobs and economic growth in the United States.”
Almost immediately, Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa lashed out at what he labeled the non-specificity of the plan.
“I am disappointed that the latest version of the administration’s goals for a NAFTA replacement is not more specific,” Hoffa said in a prepared statement. “The very general outline that the USTR posted on its website suggests that the Trump trade reform team is still undecided about what new trade policy model will replace the old NAFTA and its expansion in other bad deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
“While I agree with the President that NAFTA has been a disaster for American manufacturing and workers, I don’t see anything in these USTR guidelines for renegotiation that point towards the dramatic overhaul that NAFTA needs. For example, while we agree with the administration that a modernized NAFTA must include new chapters that protect labor rights and prohibit currency manipulation, we are concerned, based on these new negotiating objectives, that the USTR won’t take strong and specific language to the table when the talks start a month from now. This outline raises more questions than it answers about U.S. priorities going into NAFTA renegotiation.”
Lighthizer said Trump continues to fulfill his promise to renegotiate NAFTA to get a much better deal for all Americans.
“Too many Americans have been hurt by closed factories, exported jobs, and broken political promises,” he said. “Under President Trump’s leadership, USTR will negotiate a fair deal. We will seek to address America’s persistent trade imbalances, break down trade barriers, and give Americans new opportunities to grow their exports. President Trump is reclaiming American prosperity and making our country great again.”
At the direction of the President, on May 18, Lighthizer sent a letter notifying Congress of the Administration’s intent to initiate NAFTA renegotiations.
Since then, USTR has been conducting extensive consultations with Congress, stakeholders, and the public at large. USTR sought public comments, received more than 12,000 responses, and heard directly from over 140 witnesses over three days of public hearings. During this process, the Trump administration received advice that directly impacted the development of the negotiating objectives, according to the release.
Further, Lighthizer said the objectives reflect the negotiating standards established by Congress in the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 (TPA), which requires that USTR release objectives at least 30 days prior to formal negotiations. Negotiations will begin no earlier than August 16.