The Cable

There’s No Timetable for Trump to Renegotiate NAFTA

The business community wants a quick resolution, but the U.S. trade rep says this is unlikely.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 19:  U.S. President Donald Trump (2nd L) welcomes members of his American Technology Council, including (L-R) Apple CEO Tim Cook, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in the State Dining Room of the White House June 19, 2017 in Washington, DC. According to the White House, the council's goal is "to explore how to transform and modernize government information technology."  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 19: U.S. President Donald Trump (2nd L) welcomes members of his American Technology Council, including (L-R) Apple CEO Tim Cook, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in the State Dining Room of the White House June 19, 2017 in Washington, DC. According to the White House, the council's goal is "to explore how to transform and modernize government information technology." (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Anyone hoping for a quick resolution to NAFTA’s renegotiation is set to be disappointed.

Speaking to a Senate panel Wednesday morning, United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer would not commit to concluding renegotiation of the free trade deal with Canada and Mexico by the end of the year. He said there would be three days of public hearings on potential changes to it set for June 27, 28, and 29, and that he expects talks to kick off Aug. 16. So far, the federal trade office has received more than 12,000 comments on the renegotiation.

“I have seen reports that suggest we have a deadline. Let me assure the committee that we do not have a deadline,” Lighthizer told Senate Finance Committee. “The only deadline we have is that we’re going to get a good agreement, one that is transformative and that is a very high-standard agreement.”

On the campaign trail, President Donald Trump promised he would leave the deal, which he described as terrible and a job-killer, when he took office. He did not; in May, he told Congress he would renegotiate it instead.

In a letter to the White House, the top executives of 32 major companies emphasized the benefits of NAFTA, and urged the president to limit the scope of any changes. “We encourage the administration to proceed quickly and trilaterally,” the executives wrote. “Uncertainty about the future of America’s terms of trade with Canada and Mexico would suppress economic growth and may cause political reactions that undermine U.S. exporters.”

Republicans generally don’t want any sweeping changes to the law. However, labor unions and some Democrats view the renegotiations as a chance to balance the trade deficit with Mexico. Some business groups also think the deal needs an upgrade to address e-commerce and intellectual property rights connected to the digital economy.

Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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