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Trade experts talk to Midwest's legislators about long road ahead before any new deal on NAFTA

by Ilene Grossman ~ August 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
U.S.–Canada relations, and especially a key agreement that binds both countries together, was the subject of a session sponsored in July by the Midwestern Legislative Conference’s Midwest-Canada Relations Committee at the MLC Annual Meeting.
With the help of three experts on trade and U.S.-Canada relations, the region’s state and provincial lawmakers explored the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a trade pact in place for more than 20 years that has eliminated tariffs and increased the volume of trade among Canada, Mexico and the United States.
Donald Trump, as a presidential candidate and now as president, has been critical of the agreement’s impact on U.S. jobs, and several months ago, he announced his intention to renegotiate NAFTA. Negotiations are scheduled to begin in August.
“Proper change [to the agreement] will be complicated,” Kim Campbell, a businesswoman and past chair of the Canadian Society of Customs Brokers, told lawmakers. She and the other two panelists cautioned that NAFTA negotiations will likely take a long time, and that reaching agreement on a renegotiated trade deal will be difficult.
In the meantime, uncertainty about NAFTA’s future has a “very immediate cost” to businesses involved in cross-border trade, said Christopher Sands, director of the Center for Canadian Studies at Johns Hopkins University. These companies have planned and made decisions based on current terms of the agreement.
Sands added that if trade rules among the three countries must be changed, a renegotiation is much preferred to tearing up the agreement and starting over; according to Sands, the latter scenario would lead to “trench warfare,” with each issue being “fought agency by agency, sector by sector, and lobbyist by lobbyist.”
Another key player this time around will be the U.S. Congress. In the past, it has largely left trade negotiations to presidents and their appointed trade representatives, but the current Trade Promotion Authority legislation (reauthorized in 2015) provides a greater role for the legislative branch — for example, the formation of special congressional advisory committees and a requirement that the U.S. trade representative provide more information about negotiations.
As a result of these statutory provisions, state leaders will be able to better track proposed changes to NAFTA and their impact on jobs and key economic sectors. In addition, states will have a built-in conduit — their congressional delegation — to express what they want out of any new trade deal, said Jim Dickmeyer, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a former U.S. consul general in Toronto.


Article written by Ilene Grossman, CSG Midwest staff liaison for the Midwestern Legislative Conference Midwest-Canada Relations Committee.