The US, Canada and Mexico kicked off the first round of renegotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) amid widespread uncertainty and anxiety over the future of the decades-old trilateral trade deal.
“We all agree that NAFTA needs updating. This is a 23-year-old agreement and our economies are very different than they were in the 1990s,” US Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer said on Wednesday in his opening remarks for the inaugural round of NAFTA talks, which will last here until Sunday.
“We need to modernize or create provisions which protect digital trade and service trade, e-commerce, update customs procedures, protect intellectual property, improving energy provisions, enhance transparency rules and promote science-based agricultural trade,” Xinhua news agency quoted Lighthizer as saying.
Lighthizer also claimed that NAFTA “has fundamentally failed many, many Americans”, and the US “cannot ignore the huge trade deficits, the lost manufacturing jobs, the businesses that have closed or moved” because of incentives in the current agreement.
The top US trade official said President Donald Trump, who has threatened to quit NAFTA, was not interested in “a mere tweaking of a few provisions and a couple of updated chapters,” and the US would seek “major improvement” of the agreement.
In July, the USTR’s office for the first time included deficit reduction as a specific objective for the NAFTA negotiations, reflecting the Trump administration’s determination to address the issue.
However, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland dismissed the use of trade deficits as indicators of the success of a trade agreement.
“Canada doesn’t view trade surpluses or deficits as a primary measure of whether a trading relationship works,” Freeland said in her opening remarks, adding current trade between the US and Canada is “balanced and mutually beneficial.”