Renegotiating NAFTA is a top priority for the Trump administration but trade relations with the European Union, reforming the World Trade Organization, and enforcing existing trade deals are also high on the list, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees this week.
Lighthizer said talks with Canada and Mexico on updating NAFTA can begin as soon as Aug. 17 “and that is our intention.” In the meantime, USTR is reviewing the more than 12,400 public comments received and will hold “several days of public hearings” beginning June 27 to help formulate its negotiating positions. Lighthizer committed to publishing a detailed summary of negotiating objectives at least 30 days before the talks begin. According to press reports, Lighthizer said the administration would like to reach a new deal by the end of 2017 but has no specific deadline.
With respect to the EU, Lighthizer said the two sides are currently in the process of establishing the scope of their economic dialogue, which includes both bilateral and global issues. Non-economic capacity and non-market economy status for certain countries are among the issues where the U.S. anticipates being able to ally itself with the EU.
The U.S. is also looking to improve the functioning of the WTO, Lighthizer said, particularly its dispute settlement system. The U.S. has begun to “articulate [its] desires” on needed reforms and expects to see “meaningful changes in order to maintain the relevance of the system.” While this is now “a topic of serious discussion at the WTO,” Lighthizer acknowledged that there are “significant differences among members.” He also noted that the U.S. is not pushing for “major deliverables or significant negotiated outcomes” at the WTO’s next ministerial meeting this December.
Lighthizer also emphasized the need to enforce “laws already on the books,” asserting that “too little has been done in this area in recent years.” Ongoing efforts include “actively assessing ways to get tough on countries who do not respect our economic system, … reviewing and amending our action plans to ensure that we can identify [intellectual property rights] violations and take appropriate enforcement actions,” and initiating out-of-cycle reviews or investigations of countries that receive trade preferences under programs such as the Generalized System of Preferences and the African Growth and Opportunity Act.
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