In a draft letter to the Senate and House of Representatives, the Trump administration appeared closer to formally announcing and notifying Congress of its intent to begin renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The draft notes that the “persistent U.S. deficit in goods trade with Canada and Mexico demands that this administration take swift action to revise the relationship to reflect and respond to new 21st century challenges. The NAFTA was negotiated 25 years ago and while our economy and businesses have changed considerably over that period, the NAFTA has not.”
The draft includes a list of 19 specific negotiating objectives, including issues surrounding trade in goods, rules of origin, customs matters and enforcement cooperation, trade in services, government procurement, transparency and regulatory reform, the operations of state-owned and state-controlled enterprises, and trade remedies.
Regarding trade remedies, the administration’s objectives include (1) seeking a safeguard mechanism to allow a temporary revocation of tariff preferences, if increased imports from NAFTA countries are a substantial cause of serious injury or threat of serious injury to the U.S. domestic industry, and (2) seeking to preserve the ability of the United States to vigorously enforce and promote its trade remedy laws. Another objective is to eliminate NAFTA’s separate Chapter 19 dispute settlement procedures for antidumping and countervailing duty cases, arguing that panels have ignored the appropriate standard of review and applicable law, and aberrant panel decisions have not been effectively reviewed and corrected.
Sending the draft NAFTA notice to the congressional committees of jurisdiction is required under the provisions of the Trade Promotion Authority law. Further, it appears to be part of an ongoing effort by the Trump administration to negotiate with Congress on a final, official notice that will trigger a 90-day consultation process before NAFTA negotiations can begin. The Senate, however, has yet to confirm Robert Lighthizer as U.S. trade representative, and shortly after the draft notice was leaked, the White House quickly noted that it does not yet know the “final form” the official notice will take.