NAFTA Renegotiation an Opportunity to Modernize 20 Year-Old Agreement

North American Union, NAU concept on a gears, 3D renderingPresident Trump’s promise to rewrite the North American Free Trade Agreement is already rattling some companies and rippling across the Mexican economy. Growth in the country’s GDP is projected to slow to a crawl in 2017, according to the Wall Street Journal. Exports account for a third of the country’s economic activity, and some 80 percent of these go to the U.S.

Depending on how it is handled, renegotiating NAFTA could provide an opportunity to update the agreement, according to USCIB Senior Vice President Rob Mulligan. “There are aspects of NAFTA that could be improved, and provisions that could be added to address important economic changes over the last 20 years,” he observed. “But it would be critical to keep those provisions that have enabled U.S. companies to grow during that time as well.”

Mulligan said USCIB was canvassing several of its committees to see where NAFTA could be improved upon – and what “red lines” exist for companies in terms of rolling back or overturning certain key provisions in the landmark agreement.

NAFTA was the first U.S. trade agreement to include binding rules on labor and environmental protections – although these were included in a side agreement, and they have been incorporated into all U.S. trade agreements negotiated since. In addition, NAFTA included strong investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions – a key factor in gaining American business support for the agreement in light of a legacy of expropriations in Mexico and elsewhere.

A $127 annual boost to the U.S. economy

Eva Hampl, USCIB’s director of trade, investment and financial services, reports that a well-attended program last week hosted by the Washington International Trade Association included presentations on priorities for NAFTA renegotiation from USCIB member companies and others in the business community. Ralph Carter (FedEx), emphasized that Mexico and Canada are the United States’ second- and third-largest trading partners, and he cited a Peterson Institute study indicating that NAFTA brings the US $127 billion per year in additional income.

Carter said that FedEx wants to help modernize cross-border trade. Consider, he said, that it takes an average of 17 hours and three different drivers for a single truck to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Or that the “de minimis” threshold for expedited, duty-free entry of goods stands at $800 for the United States, but  only $50 for Mexico and $15 for Canada — creating barriers for “just-in-time” delivery of many components. A more seamless border, Carter emphasized, does not mean a less secure border – both can be achieved through smart reform efforts.

Looking northward, President Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today agreed on the broad importance of U.S.-Canada commercial relations. “We recognize our profound shared economic interests, and will work tirelessly to provide growth and jobs for both countries,” the leaders said in a joint statement. “Canada is the most important foreign market for 35 U.S. states, and more than $2 billion in two-way trade flows across our shared border every day. Millions of American and Canadian middle-class jobs, including in the manufacturing sector, depend on our partnership. We affirm the importance of building on this existing strong foundation for trade and investment and further deepening our relationship, with the common goal of strengthening the middle class.”

Staff Contact:   Alice Slayton Clark

Director, Investment, Trade and China
Tel: 202.682.0051

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