The United States, Mexico and Canada are opening negotiations Wednesday to reform the North American Free Trade Agreement, a 1994 trade deal that was a major target in U.S. President Donald Trump’s run for office.
Trump has called NAFTA “the worst trade deal in history,” and one that has unfairly swollen the U.S. trade deficit with Mexico while allowing manufacturing jobs to migrate there.
Addressing the imbalance is a key U.S. goal in the talks, along with seeking to do away with a dispute mechanism the three countries use to resolve disagreements.
Negotiators will use multiple sessions to try to come up with reforms, with the aim of finishing their work before the end of the year. If the process stretches into 2018, there are concerns it could be complicated by a presidential election in Mexico and U.S. congressional elections.
Mexico and Canada
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said ahead of the talks, “We are looking forward to a productive, constructive conversation.”
She spoke alongside Mexican Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal before a meeting in Washington Tuesday.
“I have always said that the negotiators cannot be unoptimistic, has to be realistic with a positive approach,” Villarreal said.
A U.S. trade official who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity said the U.S. is seeking a “more balanced, reciprocal trade agreement that supports high-paying jobs for Americans and grows the U.S. economy.”
Vow to cause no harm
Gary Hufbauer, an economist with the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics told VOA that renegotiating NAFTA will not bring back U.S. manufacturing jobs.
“Most economists don’t think that’s possible, but obviously the president does and he’s the president,” Hufbauer told VOA.
He said the topics under discussion will be ones such as state-owned enterprises, digital commerce, labor and environment. He also said U.S. negotiators have promised to work in a way that will “cause no harm.”
“What that means is that if they’re doing anything which causes Mexico or Canada to limit for example U.S. agricultural exports, which are quite substantial to both countries, that would be harm. And that would be harm to red states. So that’s a line they don’t want to cross,” Hufbauer said.