U.S. Chamber Continues NAFTA Advocacy at Mexico City Round

Friday, December 1, 2017

Negotiators from the United States, Canada, and Mexico met in Mexico City on November 17-21 for the fifth round of negotiations to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with a focus on advancing the technical aspects of pending proposals and chapters. Delegations were led by the chief negotiators for the three countries, who indicated that progress was made in the areas of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) rules, customs, trade facilitation, telecommunications, good regulatory practices, anti-corruption, market access for goods, technical barriers to trade (TBT), digital trade, and some sectoral annexes. Despite these advances, no chapters were closed.
On a more fundamental level, the negotiations remain at an impasse over a collection of U.S. proposals dubbed “poison pills” by U.S. Chamber President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue, including the proposed sunset clause, an extreme approach to rule of origins for the auto and textile/apparel sectors, and measures that would undermine investment protection, government procurement, and trade in seasonal produce.
At the conclusion of the round, the three governments issued a joint statement saying: “In response to Ministerial instructions at the end of the Fourth Round, Chief Negotiators concentrated on making progress with the aim of narrowing gaps and finding solutions. As a result, progress was made in a number of chapters. Chief Negotiators reaffirmed their commitment to moving forward in all areas of the negotiations, in order to conclude negotiations as soon as possible.”
Separately, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer issued his own statement that read in part: “While we have made progress on some of our efforts to modernize NAFTA, I remain concerned about the lack of headway. Thus far, we have seen no evidence that Canada or Mexico are willing to seriously engage on provisions that will lead to a rebalanced agreement. Absent rebalancing, we will not reach a satisfactory result.”
As the round began, USTR released an updated set of NAFTA negotiating objectives. This followed increasingly vocal criticism from trade leaders on Capitol Hill that USTR has not provided consulted adequately with lawmakers on the Administration’s priorities in the talks.
Also this week, House Speaker Paul Ryan met with Mexican Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo to discuss the negotiations. In his most direct comments to date on the issue, Speaker Ryan stated afterward: “Secretary Guajardo and I had a very productive meeting today. Mexico has long been one of our country’s most reliable trading partners, which in turn supports nearly 6.7 million American jobs. We are determined to strengthen these ties. Right now, Congress is working to enhance trade relations with our southernmost neighbor to advance our shared priorities. I expect the administration will continue to work with us to modernize NAFTA and bolster our robust relationship with such an important ally.”
The Chamber organized meetings with negotiators from the three countries, U.S. congressional representatives, and diverse business groups on the margins of the rounds, with more than 60 U.S. business representatives taking part. Following the round, the Chamber’s John Murphy participated in a television interview on Fox News’s Journal Editorial Report with the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot to discuss the Administration’s NAFTA proposals and the positions of the business community. The interview may be viewed here.
An intercessional meeting is scheduled in Washington from December 11-15 preceding the sixth NAFTA round in Montreal from January 23-28, 2018.  The 6th round of negotiations will be held in Montreal, Canada, beginning January 23rd 2017.   AmCham Canada will be supporting the official stakeholder event in Montreal in partnership with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.