Renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement could begin in mid-August.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer informed Congress on May 18 of President Donald Trump’s intent to initiate negotiations with Canada and Mexico “as soon as practicable,” but no earlier than Aug. 16, according to a news release.
The formal notification starts a 90-day period that must expire before trade deals can be altered.
United Fresh Produce Association issued a statement emphasizing the importance of trade to the produce industry and noted it looks forward to working with the relevant parties to identify ways NAFTA can be updated to better serve the industry.
“Trade across the NAFTA countries serves both consumers and deeply connected supply chains, providing significant jobs not only in agriculture but in processing and distribution,” Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh, said in the statement. “The past 25 years of NAFTA has seen important growth in the fruit and vegetable industry to meet consumer demand. However, there are certainly specific challenges within fresh produce that NAFTA modernization can aggressively address, so we are pleased that this opportunity has been realized by the Administration.”
“Since January, United Fresh has been in constant dialogue with Congress, the Administration and other interested stakeholders to convey that the fruit and vegetable industry needs trade agreements that facilitate trade, rather than erecting barriers that protect specific interests,” Guenther said. “This includes pursuit of trade agreements that eliminate unfair, discriminatory and non-science-based regulatory barriers that disadvantage the industry both here in North America and throughout the globe. United Fresh will work to ensure that changes to NAFTA reflect those principles.”
Lighthizer said in his letter to Congress that many parts of the trade agreement are outdated and that the U.S. aims to support higher-paying jobs domestically and to grow the domestic economy by improving trade opportunities with Canada and Mexico.
“NAFTA was negotiated 25 years ago, and while our economy and businesses have changed considerably over that period, NAFTA has not,” Lighthizer said in the letter. “Our aim is that NAFTA be modernized to include new provisions to address intellectual property rights, regulatory practices, state-owned enterprises, services, customs procedures, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, labor, environment, and small and medium enterprises.”
Since Feb. 2 the administration has consulted with members of the Senate Committee on Finance, the House Committee on Ways and Means, the House Advisory Group on Negotiations, the Senate Advisory Group on Negotiations, trade advisory committees and others on the topic of NAFTA renegotiation, according to the letter.
“We are committed to concluding these negotiations with timely and substantive results for U.S. consumers, businesses, farmers, ranchers, and workers, consistent with U.S. priorities and the negotiating objectives established by the Congress in statute,” Lighthizer said in the letter.
A notice will be published in the federal register requesting public input on the content of the negotiations, according to the release.