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Commerce Sec. Wilbur Ross: NAFTA Negotiations Face Timing Pressures in 2018

24 September 2017, 12:53 | Melanie Burgess

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Indeed, in 1993, after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Canada and Mexico had been concluded but not yet approved by Congress, 175 US agricultural organizations placed an ad in The Washington Post, estimating the trade deal would increase American farm exports to Mexico by more than $10 billion.

Behind the scenes, talks between Canada, the USA and Mexico have been described as professional and broad, since negotiators have mostly been focusing on areas of agreement.

It remains to be seen if the US, which triggered the negotiations, will finally table detailed proposals on any of those issues.

Autos and auto parts from areas outside of the U.S., Mexico and Canada coming into the trade bloc are a big problem, Ross said.

Another reason is that the rules include a concept called substantial transformation, which means that if further processing of a non-NAFTA item is done by a NAFTA partner, the non-NAFTA items are "transformed" and are deemed to have been produced in the United States, Canada or Mexico.

If the Americans are successful in removing it, it could mean disputes between Canada and the U.S would have to go through a USA court, something Ambrose said Canadians should be rightly suspicious of.

The administration has not yet revealed its rules of origin targets, but some auto industry lobbyists and executives expect the Trump administration to seek a regional automotive content requirement of 70 percent or more, and a USA -specific content requirement of at least 35 percent.

Speaking at a town hall meeting in Dearborn, Dingell said the Trump administration should seek to renew policies that require companies that do business with the USA government to buy American parts for their projects.

But the USA has yet to provide any details.

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During his campaign, President Donald Trump had threatened that the United States would pull out of NAFTA altogether.

Roughly 75 per cent of the value of all auto parts used in North American-built vehicles is sourced within NAFTA, well above the 62.5 per cent threshold required for finished automobiles to move duty-free between NAFTA countries.

"If you get much into 2018, the political calendar will overwhelm the trade calendar", Ross said. "Instead, such actions would likely reduce the competitiveness of North American auto production, push more production to Mexico rather than into the US, and nudge auto producers to conduct some of their intra-North American trade under most-favored-nation (MFN) tariffs rather than bothering to qualify for duty-free access under NAFTA-thereby raising their costs further". "That is going to change under President [Donald] Trump, and rules of origin are just the beginning".

Without those two additional measures, he says more jobs and investment will simply wind up flowing to Mexico or outside North America altogether.

If we don't fix the rules of origin, negotiations on the rest of the agreement will fail to meaningfully shift the trade imbalance.

Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated his wish to push for new NAFTA chapters on gender equality, indigenous rights and labor protections. Per capita this represents 11 of every 1,000 workers in Mexico, and 14 per 1,000 workers in the United States.

The Trump administration believes erasing the U.S.'s trade deficit - the amount that imports exceed exports - should be the country's top trade priority. "We actually think that's good for North America", McKenna told reporters Friday, after she met with the government's NAFTA advisory council for environmental issues.

"The President is committed to having free and fair trade with our trading partners ... but we're not going to be taken advantage of".

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