The White House formally started the countdown to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) by sending notification to Congress.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer informed Congress of a 90-day consultation period in a letter Thursday, a mandatory step to begin trade talks.
“As a starting point for negotiations, we should build on what has worked in NAFTA and change and improve what has not,” Lighthizer told reporters in a conference call, Reuters reports. “If renegotiations result in a fairer deal for American workers there is value in making the transition to a modernized NAFTA as seamless as possible.”
Negotiation talks won’t begin until at least mid-August, after the period of consultation concludes.
NAFTA was negotiated between the U.S., Canada and Mexico 25 years ago, and needs to be updated, Lighthizer said in the letter. “[W]hile our economy and businesses have changed considerably over that period, NAFTA has not,” Lighthizer wrote. The treaty needs to be updated to address intellectual property rights, regulatory practices, state-owned enterprises, and environmental issues.
President Donald Trump repeatedly called NAFTA very unfair to American businesses and workers and was ready to terminate the deal completely before speaking with Canadian and French officials and conferring with his cabinet last month.
“I don’t care if its a renovation of NAFTA, or a brand new NAFTA, but we do have to make it fair,” Trump said when he signed an executive order on the trade agreement on Jan. 23. “It’s very unfair to the American worker, and very, very unfair to companies that do business in the United States.”
“I was all set to terminate [NAFTA], you know?,” Trump told the Economist during an interview May 4, released Thursday. “And this wasn’t like—this wasn’t a game I was playing. I’m not playing,” Trump said.
A few days before Trump switched course on NAFTA, several Trump advisors, including Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, showed the president a map of all the rural, farm counties that benefit from NAFTA and also voted Republican in the 2016 presidential election. (RELATED: The New Agriculture Secretary Helped Trump Change His Mind On NAFTA)
Trump announced that he would renegotiate NAFTA rather than withdraw from the international trade agreement April 26, following calls with Mexican President Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
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