SOME PROGRESS WITH NAFTA NEGOTIATIONS

On August 27, President Trump announced that the U.S. and Mexico had reached a “preliminary agreement in principal subject to finalization and implementation” on new trade provisions. While those words seem to be the mother of all hedging, at least they represent some progress. While it has been a part of the NAFTA negotiations, Canada has been standing on the sidelines for five weeks while the U.S. and Mexico have worked toward a solution of their bilateral differences. Just this past week, Canada rejoined the talks.

The major provision of the U.S./Mexico revised agreement concerns the auto industry. Under the new pact, 75% of auto content must be made in the U.S. or Mexico. This is up from the current 62.5% in NAFTA. Also, 40-45% of the content of an auto must be the work of laborers making at least $16 per hour. Both countries believe that these provisions will support better jobs for employees, close some gaps in NAFTA, and give U.S manufacturers the incentive to expand their production. The new agreement also provides for stronger rules of origin and a streamlining of certification and verification of rules of origin.

Provisions were included that would incentivize more U.S. and Mexican production of textiles. These rules are stronger than the current regulations and hopefully would encourage more domestic and Mexican production.

Agriculture received a lot of attention in the negotiations, and several new rules regarding food sanitation, biotechnology, and tariffs were established. The two countries also agreed to remove all the barriers to marketing in Mexico certain kinds of cheeses made in the U.S., and will continue to recognize bourbon on and Tennessee whiskey as distinctive U.S. products, and Tequila and Mescal will be declared uniquely Mexican.

But what about Canada? The president has been emphatic about eliminating the NAFTA dispute mechanism, and Mexico has compromised with him on that. Chapter 19 of NAFTA allows members to challenge each other’s trade practices involving dumping and unfair subsidies; and the U.S. wants to eliminate it. Canada is very much opposed to dropping this from any agreement. Another sticking point will be the regulations regarding the shipment of dairy products from and to the U.S. and Canada.

On the surface, it appears that President Trump is quite willing to move ahead without Canada, even though Mexico disagrees. U.S. labor and other informed industry leaders feel strongly that the core of NAFTA, i.e. an agreement among all three countries must be maintained. Trump has indicated he would be quite happy with separate agreements with the two countries. That of course, would defeat the original purpose of NAFTA. Whatever happens, he wants to drop the name NAFTA. He maintains that it has too many negative connotations. He is in the minority on that one, but whatever we call it is not the big issue here. We need to find a way to get all three countries included in an agreement that each can live it. Certainly NAFTA can use some tweaking, but this pact has been too valuable to throw the baby out with the bath water. We need to be the leader in these negotiations – not the gadfly.

For complete details see the U.S. Trade Representative site at www.ustr.gov.

Written By: Clifford F. Lynch