Newly confirmed United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer issued a letter to Congress today stating that he will lead a renegotiation of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico.
The letter might delay official trade negotiations until August 15 this year, but it certainly doesn't preclude the U.S., Canada or Mexico from engaging in preliminary consultations.
Negotiation talks won't begin until at least mid-August, after the period of consultation concludes.
Lighthizer's statements Thursday morning offered few if any details on what specifically the administration hoped to change.
Lighthizer, during his March 15 confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, said he would do his best to protect what farmers have gained under NAFTA under any renegotiation.
"Since the signing of NAFTA, we have seen our manufacturing industry decimated, factories shuttered, and countless workers left jobless", Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.
Lighthizer said in the letter that the plan was to "permanently reverse the risky trajectory of American trade".
"If the administration intends on renegotiating NAFTA, it must guarantee growers that new terms won't reverse the significant benefits for USA wheat farmers, like duty free access", said David Schemm, president of the North American Wheat Growers. "President Trump is going to change that".
In particular, she mentioned the labour and environment chapters as areas that would benefit from modernization.
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The letter is a first step toward Donald Trump fulfilling promises he made from the presidential campaign trail to either renegotiate NAFTA to secure a more favorable deal for the United States, or kill the agreement entirely.
It also did not include the type of harsh rhetoric the president has used to describe NAFTA or the trade practices of Canada and Mexico in the past.
"What Canada has said from Day 1 is that we are ready to come to the table at any time", Freeland told the House of Commons Wednesday evening. NAFTA does not contain regulations pertaining to e-commerce, and it lacks the tougher environmental standards and intellectual-property protections of more recent trade deals.
As a candidate, Trump defined his "America First" stance as a means to fight unfair foreign competition. "He wanted to show the importance of the key accords to Canada".
Mr. Lighthizer's assertion that Nafta has been bad for American manufacturers will be hotly contested by the American business community, which has argued that the pact has done a lot to sustain some USA factories by creating more efficient continental supply chains that allowed US firms to better compete globally.
Canada expressed support for NAFTA and said it is already prepared to negotiate.
Freeland will travel to Mexico next week to meet her counterparts and further prepare for negotiations.
The announcement came as Mexico's Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray was meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington. "If we all do our jobs well, the result will be a stronger agreement that spurs economic growth and job creation, not just in the United States, but across North America", he said.