President Donald Trump’s trade representative officially notified Congress on Thursday that the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) will commence after a 90-day consultation period.
Robert Lighthizer, sworn-in on Monday, sent the letter to the leaders in both the House and Senate, advising them of the president’s plans “regarding modernization” of NAFTA.
The letter informs that Trump will begin renegotiation “as soon as practicable,” but no sooner than the 90 days required by U.S. trade law to advise that a treaty is subject to reinterpretation. That could mean Lighthizer sitting down with his Canadian and Mexican counterparts as early as Aug. 16,
Trump openly spoke of unilaterally withdrawing fro the treaty two weeks ago, even though that would have required congressional approval. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has suggested that his personal intervention brought Trump back to the bargaining table.
Nonetheless, despite promising Trudeau that he only wants to “tweak” NAFTA, Trump is now promising “massive” changes in the treaty. Though Lighthizer’s letter does not mention specific policy goals, the trade representative addresses the requirement to reassess chapters that “do not reflect modern standards” and specifically cites digital trade as a phenomenon that NAFTA did not entirely anticipate or assess.
The letter also states that NAFTA currently does not “address intellectual property rights, regulatory practices, state-owned enterprises, services, customs procedures, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, labour, environment and small and medium enterprises.”
Trump does not have to release specific details of his plans until one month prior to the official start date of trade talks. Before Lighthizer sent Thursday’s letter, he met with members of congressional committees to discuss the correspondence.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland released a statement Thursday welcoming Lighthizer’s letter and saying that it “has long been anticipated.”
Although the Liberal government is not required to consult with opposition parties or provincial governments when it renegotiates NAFTA, Freeland says the federal government has already been discussing the issue with “the provinces and territories, industry, unions, civil society, think-tanks, academics, Indigenous peoples, women, youth and the general public.”
Freeland continued, “This will enable us to assess what matters most to Canadians and to advance our interests,” the statement said. “We are at an important juncture that offers us an opportunity to determine how we can best align NAFTA to new realities — and integrate progressive, free and fair approaches to trade and investment.”