NAFTA’s members are back on the table to negotiate

NAFTA’s members are back on the table to negotiate

Oct 11, 2017

Canada, Mexico and the United States are drawing their battle lines for the fourth round of negotiations to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement. And the differences in their priorities for the talks, scheduled for Washington during Oct. 11-15, are becoming even clearer. The negotiations will reach their apex in the fourth round, but they will hit plenty of bumps along the way. As the signatory countries address the most difficult items on their agendas, they will run up against one another’s imperatives, making compromise all the more challenging.

Getting in Gear

For U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, the main focus of the talks will be on reducing the United States’ bilateral trade deficit with Mexico and boosting its exports to the rest of the bloc. The United States is expected to propose increasing regional content requirements, the rules that govern the percentage of a product’s added value that must come from within NAFTA, from 62.5 percent to 85 percent to close the gap between its imports and exports. It is also expected to propose a new stipulation — the first of its kind in a multilateral trade deal — requiring that 50 percent of a good’s content come from the United States to qualify for NAFTA benefits.

The automobile sector, which accounts for $54 billion of the $66 billion U.S. deficit, is the chief target of these proposals. But the vast majority of U.S.-based automotive companies will object to implementing the measures. The automotive supply chains in the United States, Canada and Mexico, after all, are so closely integrated that suddenly changing regional content requirements would cause major problems across the bloc. Furthermore, it’s unclear whether higher content requirements will help the U.S. automotive sector in the long run. American-made cars and components aren’t as competitively priced as they once were. Many firms may sooner forgo the perks of NAFTA and pay the modest 2.5 percent tariff the United States applies to many light-duty vehicles than take on the expense of complying with the revised rules.

And automakers won’t be the only ones grumbling in the United States. Others already have criticized U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer for ignoring the procedure for raising issues to address in the negotiations. Though Lighthizer has the lead in the trade talks, his office must clear the U.S. position with other government agencies before presenting it to Mexico and Canada. Lighthizer has responded to the complaints that he has bypassed the proper channels by saying that the government eventually will come together on the various issues at stake. So far, however, some of Lighthizer’s demands, such as proposals to institute a sunset clause or an automatic renegotiation trigger in NAFTA and to change its investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, are still points of contention in the United States.

(Stratfor 2017)

Trade Between NAFTA Members


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