On August 31, 2018, President Donald Trump officially notified Congress of his administration’s intent “to enter into a trade agreement with Mexico — and with Canada if it is willing, in a timely manner, to meet the high standards for free, fair, and reciprocal trade contained therein.” Notification was necessary under the provisions of the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation, which allows “fast track” consideration of trade agreements (i.e., Congress can vote to approve or reject a trade deal but cannot amend the text of the agreement). In the wake of the president’s notification, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer indicated that a resulting free trade agreement could either be bilateral (with Mexico) or trilateral (with Canada also), depending upon the final negotiated text of any agreement. It has been questioned, however, whether a bilateral agreement fulfills TPA requirements since Congress had been earlier notified of the Trump administration’s intent to renegotiate a trilateral North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). If Congress believes that a free trade agreement with only Mexico does not qualify for TPA consideration, amendments could be offered by Congress, potentially complicating any final agreement. With Congressional notification under the TPA, the actual text of any agreement must be submitted to Congress within the next 30 days for its consideration.
Canada and the United States could not conclude a final agreement last week in their renewed negotiations to revise and update the NAFTA after Mexico and the United States announced their successful negotiations. Both countries, however, indicated that progress was made and that they will continue negotiations over the next 30 days. According to trade officials from both countries, the remaining key issues relate to Canada’s agricultural programs (particularly its dairy program) and the United States’ desire to eliminate NAFTA’s Chapter 19 dispute settlement system. Matters were complicated on Friday, August 31, when President Trump was quoted in the press that he would make no concessions to Canada and could instead impose tariffs on U.S. imports of Canadian automobiles. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland replied that “the focus is on getting a good deal, and once we have a good deal for Canada we’ll be done.” On Saturday, September 1, the president further heightened tensions by tweeting, “There is no political necessity to keep Canada in the new NAFTA deal. If we don’t make a fair deal for the U.S. after decades of abuse, Canada will be out.” He added a warning that “Congress should not interfere w/ these negotiations or I will simply terminate NAFTA entirely & we will be far better off … ”