On December 1, 2018, President Donald Trump announced his intention to formally terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 2019. Addressing the press aboard Air Force One, Trump stated that he will terminate the agreement within six months in an effort to get the U.S. Congress to move on implementing the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA): “And so Congress will have a choice of the USMCA or pre-NAFTA, which worked very well.” In accordance with NAFTA Article 2205, “A party may withdraw from this Agreement six months after it provides written notice of withdrawal to the other Parties.” While the president can announce his intention to withdraw from the agreement and even deliver written notice of termination, it remains open for debate if congressional approval is required for complete termination to take effect.

These comments set the stage for a showdown with congressional leaders on the passage of the USMCA and whether it can be done within the president’s desired timeline. Senator Ron Wyden, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, issued a statement shortly after the USMCA was signed on November 30, 2019 indicating that he still has some concerns about the negotiated USMCA: “Over the coming months I will push to see that these concerns are addressed before Congress considers this proposal.” To implement the USMCA, a majority in each chamber of Congress is required to pass the law; as a result of the mid-term congressional elections in November, Trump will need bipartisan support to obtain that majority.

On the sidelines of the international G-20 (Group of Twenty) forum in Buenos Aires, Argentina, U.S. President Donald Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed today the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), launching the formal process to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). During the signing ceremony, Trump stated, “This new agreement will ensure a future of prosperity and innovation for Mexico, Canada and the United States.”

Today’s ceremony is a significant milestone for Trump, who focused on the modernization of the NAFTA in his presidential campaign, and follows an intense period of negotiations completed in September 2018 (see Trump and Trade Update, October 2, 2018). The signing ceremony also occurred on Nieto’s final day in office and despite the parties’ continuing disagreement over the Section 232 tariffs the United States has placed on steel and aluminum imports from Canada and Mexico. In brief remarks, Trudeau raised the need to remove these tariffs, stating that “With hard work, good will and determination, I’m confident we will get there,” and adding that “Our shared interests, prosperity and security demand it.”

While the USMCA has now been signed, the trade agreement must still be ratified by Congress. Trump notified Congress on August 31, 2018 of his intent to sign the agreement, and this notification triggered certain procedures under the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) (formally known as the Trade Preferences Extension Act of 2015). Now that the USMCA is signed, the Trump administration has 60 days under TPA to report to Congress changes to U.S. law that are required to comply with the terms of the agreement. Also, within 105 days of the agreement being signed, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) must complete a study of the agreement’s economic impact (see Trump and Trade Update, October 16, 2018 and ITC Notice of Investigation). Eventually, the Congress will have to pass legislation to implement the USMCA, a final step in the implementation process which may have become more difficult with the Democratic Party assuming control of the House of Representatives in the next session of Congress in January 2019. While Trump expressed confidence today that the USMCA will pass Congress in the new year, bilateral opposition in both houses of Congress is mounting, which may lead to more side letters on certain issues or concessions on other unrelated legislation. The legislatures in Mexico and Canada must also ratify the trade agreement, but approval in both without much pushback is expected. Most trade analysts are predicting that the terms of the agreement may not truly be finalized and implemented until well into 2019.

In wide-ranging remarks during a business session with U.S. governors, President Trump yesterday repeatedly broached the topic of international trade. The president reiterated his commitment to working on fair and reciprocal trade deals and highlighted specific trade issues:

  • Mexico – “You know, with Mexico … we probably lose $130 billion a year…. And, at some point, we have to get stronger and smarter, because we cannot continue to lose that kind of money with one country.”
  • Canada – “We lose a lot with Canada. People don’t know it. Canada is very smooth. They have you believe that it’s wonderful. And it is — for them…. So we have to start showing that we know what we’re doing.”
  • WTO – “World Trade Organization – a catastrophe…. makes it almost impossible for us to do good business. We lose the cases, we don’t have the judges. We have a minority of judges.”
  • China – “[W]e probably lost $504 billion, last year, on trade…. Other Presidents should have solved this problem long before I got here. And they’ve been talking for 25 years. And you know what happened? Nothing.”
  • Steel – “I want to bring the steel industry back into our country. If that takes tariffs, let them take tariffs, okay? Maybe it will cost a little bit more, but we’ll have jobs. Let it take tariffs.”
  • Aluminum – “I want to bring aluminum back into our country. These plants are all closing or closed.”
  • Section 232 Trade Actions – “Recently, we put a tariff on washing machines because we were getting killed ….. That was two months ago. You have to see the activity on new plants being built for washing machines and for solar panels. We had 32 solar-panel plants. Of the 32, 30 were closed, and 2 were on life-to-life resuscitation. They were dead. Now they’re talking about opening up many of them — reopening plants that have been closed for a long time.”

In closing comments on trade, President Trump stated that “we’re going to straighten it out. We’ve already started. I mean, the first year is just — we laid the seeds.”

The Department of Commerce has released its 2017 year-end report on U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services, revealing a sharp increase in the overall trade deficit during President Trump’s first year in office. For 2017, the goods and services deficit increased to $566 billion, a $61.2 billion (12.1 %) increase from 2016. Exports were $2,329.3 billion in 2017, up $121.2 billion (5.5%) from 2016. Imports were $2,895.3 billion in 2017, up $182.5 billion (6.7%) from 2016.

The 2017 figures show surpluses, in billions of dollars, with South and Central America ($34.3), Hong Kong ($32.5), Netherlands ($24.5), Belgium ($14.8) and Australia ($14.6). Deficits were recorded, in billions of dollars, with China ($375.2), the European Union ($151.4), Mexico ($71.1), Japan ($68.8), Germany ($64.3), Ireland ($38.1), Italy ($31.6), Malaysia ($24.6), India ($22.9), South Korea ($22.9), Thailand ($20.4), Canada ($17.6), Taiwan ($16.7), France ($15.3), Switzerland ($14.3), Indonesia ($13.3) and OPEC ($13). Of note, the deficit with China increased $28.2 billion to $375.2 billion in 2017, and the deficit with Mexico increased $6.7 billion to $71.1 billion in 2017.

Upon the conclusion of the fifth round of renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer issued the following statement:

“While we have made progress on some of our efforts to modernize NAFTA, I remain concerned about the lack of headway. Thus far, we have seen no evidence that Canada or Mexico are willing to seriously engage on provisions that will lead to a rebalanced agreement. Absent rebalancing, we will not reach a satisfactory result. A rebalanced, updated NAFTA will promote greater prosperity for American workers, farmers, ranchers and businesses and strengthen the North American region as a whole. Our teams will be meeting again next month in Washington. I hope our partners will come to the table in a serious way so we can see meaningful progress before the end of the year.”

The parties have agreed to hold the sixth round of negotiations January 23-28, 2018 in Montréal, Canada. In the meantime, negotiators will continue to work in intersessional meetings in Washington, D.C. throughout mid-December and will report back to the chief negotiators on the progress achieved.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has released an updated summary of U.S. objectives for the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The new objectives update the previous objectives published in July (see our July 18, 2017 update), and come after four rounds of negotiations among the United States, Mexico and Canada. The updated objectives reflect the goals of text proposals the United States has tabled in the NAFTA negotiations so far. The objectives include increased market access for agriculture, new transparency and administrative measures, expanded investment and intellectual property objectives, and completed negotiations on the chapters of Competition and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises. According to the USTR, the objectives for Trade in Goods include the first-ever objective for trade deficit reduction and an improvement in the U.S. trade balance with NAFTA countries.

The updated objectives “represent a serious effort to renegotiate the Agreement to update its provisions to the best 21st century standards and rebalance the benefits of the deal so that each country succeeds. U.S. proposals reflecting these objectives are supported by a diverse group of American interests. If these objectives are achieved, the United States will obtain more open, equitable, secure, and reciprocal market access, and the entire NAFTA region will benefit.”

After four rounds of negotiations, the United States, Canada and Mexico are beginning to express frustration concerning the discussions and proposals to revise and update the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In an October 17 joint statement, the parties indicated that they have put forward “substantially all initial text proposals” but that these proposals have “created challenges” and highlighted “significant conceptual gaps” among the three countries.

Acknowledging that one of President Trump’s clear objectives is the reduction of the U.S. trade deficit with its NAFTA partners, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer stated that he was “surprised and disappointed by the resistance to change from our negotiating partners.” In his closing remarks, Ambassador Lighthizer said, “As difficult as this has been, we have seen no indication that our partners are willing to make any changes that will result in a rebalancing and a reduction in these huge trade deficits. Now I understand that after many years of one-sided benefits, their companies have become reliant on special preferences and not just comparative advantage. Countries are reluctant to give up unfair advantage. But the President has been clear that if we are going to have an agreement going forward, it must be fair to American workers and businesses that employ our people at home.”

In response, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland called the U.S. list of proposals “unconventional” and “troubling,” stating that some of them would “turn back the clock on 23 years of predictability, openness and collaboration under NAFTA.”

Mexican Secretary of the Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal said, “We must ensure that decisions we make today do not come back to haunt us tomorrow,” adding that, in order for the negotiations to be fruitful, “we must understand that we all have limits.”

Mexico will host the fifth round of negotiations November 17-21, 2017, and the parties have agreed that additional rounds will be necessary and scheduled during the first quarter of 2018.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) issued a joint statement yesterday on tax reform in which they announced that the controversial proposal for a border adjustment tax (BAT) system is being dropped from consideration so that the effort to address comprehensive tax reform can move forward.

According to the statement, the group is “… now confident that, without transitioning to a new domestic consumption-based tax system, there is a viable approach for ensuring a level playing field between American and foreign companies and workers, while protecting American jobs and the U.S. tax base. While we have debated the pro-growth benefits of border adjustability, we appreciate that there are many unknowns associated with it and have decided to set this policy aside in order to advance tax reform.”

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has released a detailed and comprehensive summary of the negotiating objectives for the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In a brief statement upon the release, Lighthizer stated that the Trump administration will seek an agreement “that reduces the U.S. trade deficit and is fair for all Americans by improving market access in Canada and Mexico for U.S. manufacturing, agriculture, and services.” The summary notes that the “new NAFTA must continue to break down barriers to American exports. This includes the elimination of unfair subsidies, market-distorting practices by state owned enterprises, and burdensome restrictions of intellectual property. The new NAFTA will be modernized to reflect 21st century standards and will reflect a fairer deal, addressing America’s persistent trade imbalances in North America. It will ensure that the United States obtains more open, equitable, secure, and reciprocal market access, and that our trade agreement with our two largest export markets is effectively implemented and enforced.”

The negotiating objectives include a new digital economy chapter and stronger labor and environmental obligations that are currently in NAFTA side agreements. These objectives reflect the negotiating standards established by Congress in the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015, which requires that the USTR release objectives at least 30 days before formal negotiations begin. Negotiations will now start no earlier than August 16, 2017.

In response to President Trump’s Executive Order 13786 (see our update of April 3, “Executive Order Calls for Omnibus Report on Significant Trade Deficits”), the governments of Canada and Mexico have filed formal comments with the Department of Commerce ahead of the public hearing to be held on May 18, 2017.

While Mexico’s formal report is detailed, it notes:

The US trade deficit with Mexico is explained mainly by the way North American value chains are integrated. Mexico is the main supplier for many US industries, and this supplier relationship naturally creates trade deficits. Imports from Mexico enable US manufacturers to remain competitive in global markets, enhancing their ability to export to other countries and to provide American consumers with high quality goods at more competitive prices. The Mexican-US partnership strengthens both countries’ position in global markets and enhances our regional competitiveness to the benefit of workers, consumers and producers on both sides of the border.

The comments also note the strong ties and regional supply chains created under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and that “American manufacturing jobs depend on Mexican manufacturing jobs and vice-versa, since workers on both sides of the border work together in the production of goods to successfully compete in global markets.”

Canada’s formal report highlights the fact that the United States normally has a trade surplus with Canada and that “[o]ur trade is characterized by a high level of integrated production, with companies on both sides of the border using inputs from the other.” Further, the comments note that the U.S. relies on imports of Canadian raw materials and intermediate goods that ensure the competitiveness of U.S. manufactured products, and that the two countries have long cooperated to reduce impediments to trade.

To review other comments submitted for the record, visit www.regulations.gov and search for Docket ID: ITA-2017-0003; International Trade Administration.