Is Trump Really Going To Renegotiate The NAFTA Agreement?

The Trump administration is poised to trigger a renegotiation of Nafta as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross met with key lawmakers to satisfy a final step required beforehand.

Ross on Tuesday laid out a preliminary strategy for a Nafta renegotiation to a group of House members he is required to consult with ahead of issuing a formal 90-day notice that the administration intends to revise the agreement, said people familiar with the matter who discussed the meeting on condition of anonymity. The group includes Kevin Brady, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, as well as Richard Neal, the committee’s ranking Democrat.

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Ross was vague about what the U.S. will seek from Mexico and Canada in the talks, said one of the people.

Under the law that gives the president so-called fast-track authority on trade pacts, Trump must give Congress 90-days’ notice that he intends to revise an existing agreement. Before starting talks, he must lay out the administration’s goals and consult with the Ways and Means committee, as well as the Senate Finance committee, the two congressional committees with jurisdiction over trade.

Ross told reporters on March 10 that the administration planned to give the 90-day notice in “the next couple weeks.” The Commerce Department didn’t immediately reply Wednesday to a request for comment.

Mexico’s Moves

Mexico announced on Feb. 1 the start of its own consultations on the North American Free Trade Agreement, which created one of the world’s largest free-trade zones. The Mexican government will hold talks with businesses and other stakeholders, its government said.

The approaching negotiations come at a tense time between the U.S. and Mexico, whose president, Enrique Pena Nieto, canceled a visit to Washington in January after Trump doubled down on promises to make the country pay for a border wall.

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Any of the three countries can withdraw from Nafta on six-months’ notice. Trump has said he would pull out if his counterparts aren’t willing to renegotiate it.

Trump’s top trade adviser, Peter Navarro, raised hopes last week that the U.S. might take a more conciliatory approach toward Mexico. In an interview with Bloomberg News, Navarro said he hoped the U.S. could ally with Mexico to form a “mutually beneficial regional powerhouse” that would benefit manufacturers and workers on both sides of the border.

Navarro, head of the White House’s National Trade Council, said tightening rules of origin to help U.S. manufacturers will be a key goal of the talks.