NAFTA Partners Set Expedited Schedule for Renegotiation Talks
The U.S., Canada, and Mexico are looking to move quickly to revamp NAFTA before political challenges in 2018 make it more difficult. The first round of talks will be held Aug. 16-20 in Washington, D.C., and the second round has reportedly been scheduled for Sept. 1-5 in Mexico City. Press sources indicate that negotiators are planning to meet seven times through the end of the year, approximately every three weeks, with trade ministers taking the lead on the last day of each round.
All three countries have named their lead negotiators. Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for the Western Hemisphere John Melle, a nearly 30-year veteran of the agency, will lead the U.S. team. Ken Smith Ramos, who heads the Ministry of the Economy’s Trade and NAFTA Office in Washington, will represent Mexico. Canada’s chief negotiator will reportedly be Steve Verheul, who led talks on Canada’s recently concluded free trade agreement with the European Union.
The three countries are hoping to conclude an updated agreement by the end of 2017 to avoid the political pressures that will accompany campaigns later in 2018 for president in Mexico and Congress in the U.S. However, many observers believe this is an overly ambitious timeframe given some significant differences in each side’s priorities. For example, a 17-page summary of negotiating objectives released in July indicates that the U.S. plans to focus on reducing trade deficits and improving enforcement and implementation. That could put it at odds with Mexico, which has highlighted increasing exports, improving integration of regional labor markets, and strengthening the NAFTA dispute settlement mechanisms.