WASHINGTON, Aug. 15, 2017 - U.S. negotiators say they plan this week to lay out a significant amount of proposed text for a new North American Free Trade Agreement as they try to accelerate the three-country talks.
A senior official in the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the the U.S. negotiators would be “quite ambitious” during the first round of negotiations that starts Wednesday and runs through Sunday at a Washington hotel.
However, he said that the negotiations would still take several months to complete. “We expect the tables to be pretty covered over the next five days,” the official told reporters on Tuesday, referring to the amount of proposed text that will be offered.
The intent is to consolidate the text offered by the three countries and bracket those sections where there is disagreement. “Then, we’ll spend all our time trying to get rid of those brackets,” the official said.
Critics of NAFTA are calling on USTR to release the proposed text. Celeste Drake, trade policy specialist for the AFL-CIO, said the administration should make the text available public even before it is presented at the negotiations. That would help ensure “full participation of the public and the Congress” in the negotiations, she said.
The USTR official, however, said the proposed text would remain classified during the negotiations.
Canadian officials said on Monday that maintaining that country’s supply management program for dairy would be one of their core objectives in the talks, but the USTR official said the Canadians were merely restating a “longstanding” position. “We expected that, are prepared for that, and are looking forward to working with them," the official said.
Florida tomato growers and some other producers of regionally grown commodities are hoping the proposed U.S. text will include provisions to make it easier for them to bring antidumping cases against Mexican competitors. “I hope it can be crafted in a way that doesn’t make the rest of the ag commodity industry in the country terribly nervous,” said Reggie Brown, manager of the Florida Tomato Committee and executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange.
He said it’s impossible for such regional growers of crops such as strawberries, watermelons, peppers, asparagus and peppers to bring antidumping cases under current rules because they don’t control enough of U.S. production. Many producers are struggling to stay in business after losing significant market share to Mexico, he said. “We’re at a close tipping point for many of the commodities,” he said.
Many other agriculture sectors are urging the Trump administration to complete the talks as quickly as possible without doing anything to hamper U.S. exports.
"Canada and Mexico are top markets for our pork, so, obviously, we don’t want any disruptions in our exports to those countries; we need to keep pork trade flowing,” said Ken Maschhoff, president of the National Pork Producers Council. “We want to reiterate to the Trump administration that NAFTA has been a boon to the U.S. pork industry and to all of American agriculture.”
This week’s talks are unlikely to result in any settlements of the issues that are in dispute, said Bill Reinsch, a trade adviser at Kelley Drye and Warren and former president of the National Foreign Trade Council.
“The initial round is usually to lay out each side's positions and to set up sub-groups to negotiate the various issues,” he said. “Progress would be agreeing on what will be discussed, particularly what new issues will be on the table for possible addition, like digital trade.”
The second round of the negotiations will take place in Mexico and a third is expected to be held in Canada before the end of the year.