By Ernie Smith
The ice appears to be thawing in trade relations between the U.S. and Mexico, two of the three parties to the long-running North American Free Trade Agreement. But as the Trump administration renegotiates NAFTA, many associations want to make sure Canada isn’t lost in the shuffle.
A tentative deal between the U.S. and Mexico, announced Monday, led many trade groups to call for the administration to keep all three countries in the agreement rather than move to a bilateral one.
In a statement to Bloomberg, the U.S. Chamber of Commerceapplauded the work done to modernize NAFTA but added, “In order to do no harm to the 14 million U.S. jobs that depend on trade with Canada and Mexico, the agreement must remain trilateral.”
National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons shared that sentiment, while calling the preservation of some form of NAFTA “a step in the right direction.”
The Business Roundtable took issue with some of the details of the agreement, saying proposals that would add sunset certain provisions and limit options for dispute settlement “might signal not an improvement, but rather a step backward.”
Meanwhile, agricultural groups—already concerned about the impact of tariffs on global trade—discouraged the administration from moving away from the existing NAFTA agreement. “We hope the agreement today opens the door for Canada’s re-engagement,” U.S. Grains Council President and CEO Tom Sleight said in a statement.
Whether Canada will join the agreement isn’t clear, but the Canadian American Business Council suggested in comments to CNBC on Tuesday that Canadian negotiators could sign off this week.
STRONGER PROTECTIONS NEEDED
Other organizations say any renegotiation of NAFTA must strengthen protections for intellectual property and other U.S. business interests. In a recent blog post, Institute for Policy Innovation President Tom Giovanetti wrote that any changes should help bolster the agreement’s existing protections.
“While NAFTA has been a better deal for the U.S. than President Donald Trump has claimed, revisiting NAFTA provides an opportunity to materially improve the agreement for all parties involved, including updating its IP protections,” Giovanetti wrote. “If a new NAFTA doesn’t improve IP protections, it’s not a better deal.”
The American Apparel & Footwear Association, meanwhile, emphasized that NAFTA is working well for the industry. “Any update to the agreement must continue to support these American jobs, promote trade linkages, and be seamlessly implemented to be considered a success,” AAFA President and CEO Rick Helfenbein said in a statement. “It is with this in mind that we are deeply concerned to hear any mention of withdrawal or termination of the existing agreement at this late stage.”