NAFTA partners wrap up first round of renegotiation talks

US, Canadian and Mexican negotiators wrapped the first round of talks aimed at revamping the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, part of a US effort to cut its trade deficit

21 August 2017, 8:33am
Negotiators from the three countries agree on the need to update the pact, including by adding a chapter on e-commerce and addressing the growing role of trade in services
Negotiators from the three countries agree on the need to update the pact, including by adding a chapter on e-commerce and addressing the growing role of trade in services
Canada, the United States and Mexico wrapped up their first round of talks on Sunday to revamp the NAFTA trade pact, vowing to keep up a blistering pace of negotiations.

The three NAFTA countries are "committed to an accelerated and comprehensive negotiation process that will upgrade our agreement and establish 21st century standards to the benefit of our citizens," according to a joint statement.

The talks opened Wednesday with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer insisting in blunt language that NAFTA must undergo wholesale revision in order to fulfil President Donald Trump's goal of reducing bilateral trade imbalances and protecting American jobs, especially in the auto sector.

Trump famously denounced NAFTA as "the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere," and threatened to pull out of the agreement he said has destroyed US jobs. But he eventually succumbed to pressure to renegotiate instead.

"We feel that NAFTA has fundamentally failed many, many Americans and needs major improvement," Lighthizer said in his opening remarks.

Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland and Mexican economy secretary Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal made clear they view the free trade deal as a success and only want to see it modernised and improved, not weighed down with unreasonable goals.

The first round of NAFTA talks covered more than two dozen different negotiation topics "and agreed to provide additional text, comments or alternate proposals during the next two weeks," following consultations with businesses and stakeholders in their home countries, according to the statement.

Negotiators from the three countries agree on the need to update the pact, including by adding a chapter on e-commerce and addressing the growing role of trade in services.

As the five days of negotiations came to an end in Washington, the top trade officials from the three countries said Mexico would host the next round of talks from 1 to 5 September.

The talks will move to Canada later in September, then return to the United States in October, with additional rounds planned for later this year, the trade negotiators said.

The timeline for the talks is accelerated given elections in Mexico in July 2018, as well as the US legislative calendar, with seven to nine rounds expected to finish the revisions by the end of 2017.

In addition to revamping NAFTA, Trump last week also announced plans for trade talks with Japan and a renegotiation of the free trade agreement Korea also with the aim of cutting the trade deficit with those countries.