By on June 22, 2017

us-capitol, public domain

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said on Wednesday there was no definitive timeline for completing NAFTA trade renegotiations. Discussions haven’t even begun between the United States, Canada, and Mexico but legislators and executives have already warned prolonged negotiations would likely be detrimental to their interests.

The automotive industry is mainly seeking a swift and unambiguous update that doesn’t rock the boat too severely. Every day there is no consensus on the trade agreement is another day it has to postpone large investments. Ideally, the U.S. wants the redrawn NAFTA to prioritize its workforce and industry, while the Trump administration aims to tax imports and force companies to do more business within its borders. But, with nothing finalized, many automakers are in a holding pattern. Volkswagen, for example, is putting off decisions on major U.S. investments until it becomes clearer what course NAFTA will take. 

Lighthizer explained that, while he’d like to move quickly on negotiations, he has no intention of doing so at the expense of a good deal. “There is no deadline. My hope is that we can get it done by the end of the year, but there are a lot of people who think that is completely unrealistic,” Lighthizer told a Senate Finance Committee hearing to discuss his agency’s budget. He said achieving a NAFTA deal by 2018 was a “very, very quick timeframe [and] we’re not going to have a bad agreement to save time.”

With Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on backup vocals, Lighthizer will serve as the United States’ chief trade negotiator on NAFTA. It will be his job to keep the Trump campaign promise to shrink trade deficits while also convincing the rest of North America not to pull out of the deal.

Right now, he’s just trying to set a date with Canada and Mexico to begin the affair. “We are in the process right now talking to our negotiating partners about when the first day of the meeting will be,” Lighthizer said.

Formal NAFTA negotiations are expected to begin sometime in August.

[Source: Reuters]

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