The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer delivered the Trump administration’s Trade Agenda Policy and Annual Report to Congress yesterday, outlining the administration’s trade goals as it looks to tweak — or even radically change — the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
The report, which is required by Congress by a March 1 deadline annually, is underpinned by five objectives: trade policy that supports national security policy; strengthening the American economy; negotiating trade deals that “work for all Americans”; enforcing and defending U.S. trade laws; and strengthening the multilateral trading system.
“President Trump is keeping his promises to the American people on trade, from withdrawing the United States from the flawed Trans-Pacific Partnership, to renegotiating NAFTA, to strongly enforcing U.S. trade laws,” Lighthizer said in a USTR release. “We are already seeing the results of President Trump’s agenda pay off for American workers, farmers, ranchers, and businesses.”
Trump started his presidential term by signing an Executive Order that withdrew the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Since then, Trump, Lighthizer and others in the administration have expressed a preference for bilateral trade arrangements.
“The Trump Administration intends to reach other agreements designed to promote fair, balanced trade and support American jobs and prosperity,” the USTR annual report fact sheet states. “Efforts underway include the US-UK Trade and Investment Working Group and preparing for potential bilateral negotiations in the Indo-Pacific and African regions.”
This week, trade representatives from the NAFTA countries came together for a seventh round of talks focusing on renegotiation of the now 24-year-old trade deal. Despite calling NAFTA “the worst trade deal ever signed” on numerous occasions and multiple threats to withdraw from the deal throughout negotiations last year, the deal continues to survive.
Politically, elections in all three countries this year complicate the proceedings (the parties had hoped to avoid running into election season, but a new deal could not be struck in the compressed negotiating window late last year). Mexico has a presidential election scheduled July 1, while Canada has provincial elections June 7. The U.S., too, has primaries around the country, with the general midterm elections in November.
The candidates emerging victorious, particularly in the Mexican presidential race, could have a significant impact on the direction of the NAFTA talks. Earlier this week, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto reportedly canceled a scheduled meeting with Trump after an exchange about Trump’s proposed border well, which only serves to ramp up tensions vis-a-vis the ongoing NAFTA talks.
As for Canada, public comments from Canadian negotiators and government officials have grown increasingly pessimistic in recent months. According to a Washington Post report this week, the U.S. and Canada are still far apart on issues like automotive manufacturing and trade dispute resolution.
In other trade news, the USTR has also been working on the bilateral trade deal with South Korea, dubbed KORUS. U.S. and South Korean officials met to talk trade Jan. 31-Feb. 1 in Seoul.
“Discussions focused on specific proposals, including those related to market access and tariffs,” a USTR release stated. “The United States emphasized steps to rebalance the Agreement to improve the large trade deficit in industrial goods, including autos and auto parts. Additionally, the United States pressed for the resolution of Agreement implementation concerns that have hindered U.S. goods and services export growth and opportunities in Korea.”
The USTR’s full annual report to Congress is accessible on the USTR website.