NAFTA Renegotiation Talks Continue as U.S. Suggests Sunset Clause

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Trade negotiators from the U.S., Canada and Mexico are back at it again, working to tweak — or in some cases, totally alter — the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

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Representatives from the three countries came together beginning last week for the fourth round of talks focused on the renegotiation of NAFTA, the 23-year-old trilateral trade deal.

The talks started Oct. 11 in Arlington, Va., and are scheduled to continue until Oct. 17.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer issued a statement opening the fourth round of talks.

The officials are scheduled to work on two dozen discussion topics during this round of talks, and recently finished a chapter on competition. According to a USTR release, the updated NAFTA Competition Chapter “goes beyond anything the United States has done in previous free trade agreements.”

“I am pleased to welcome back Secretary Guajardo, Minister Freeland, and their teams to continue negotiations here in Washington,” Lighthizer said in the prepared statement. “Thus far, we have made good progress, and I look forward to several days of hard work.”

Even so, cracks seem to be forming in the dialogue that threaten the stability of the talks and, consequently, the agreement.

As has been mentioned before, President Donald Trump reportedly nearly withdrew the U.S. from the trade deal in April until talks with the Mexican and Canadian leaders convinced him otherwise.

In recent months, Trump has resumed with threats against the deal, which he once called possibly the worst trade deal ever. Renegotiating the deal has always been a primary goal for Trump, with the understanding that should a favorable deal fail to materialize, he would withdraw the U.S. from it.

So far, the threats to withdraw from the deal have been just that: threats.

However, those threats have seemed to pick up as negotiations have continued. And when it come to negotiations, reports indicate a number of the U.S. delegation’s proposals are not going to go over well with their fellow NAFTA partners.

On Thursday, Reuters reported that the U.S. negotiating team suggested any approved deal should include a five-year sunset clause, meaning the deal would have to be effectively re-approved by all three countries in five years or it dissolves.

Naturally, this has a number of stakeholders feeling nervous, as such a sunset clause, businesses argue, creates uncertainty. With increasingly interconnected and entrenched supply chains, business interests view a sunset clause as a non-starter, as do Canada and Mexico.

In other policy proposals, Reuters reported Friday that the U.S. is pushing stricter rules on automotive content, particularly with respect to aluminum, steel, copper and plastic resins, in an effort to up the level of automotive materials sourced in North America.

As the talks continue, United Steelworkers again urged the administration to consider workers.

“It’s no surprise that business groups are concerned that NAFTA’s outsourcing provisions may be dramatically altered, and that provisions might be included to develop an agreement that is fairer to workers,” a USW release last week said. “Organized labor is working with the Administration to advance proposals that will promote growth and opportunity for workers in all three countries. A deal that achieves those goals would be worthy of our support.

“Businesses have set the agenda for far too long and the result has been rising trade deficits, lost jobs, devastated communities and rising income inequality.”

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The talks are scheduled to wrap up tomorrow, Oct. 17. According to the USTR, a trilateral press event including Lighthizer, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Mexican Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal.

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