NAFTA revamp talks will start next month in Washington

NAFTA revamp talks will start next month in Washington
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The first round of negotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are set for next month in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Wednesday that talks with Mexico and Canada are slated for Aug. 16-20 in the nation's capital. 

John Melle, assistant U.S. Trade Representative for the Western Hemisphere, will serve as chief negotiator for the NAFTA negotiations.

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The three nations are in discussions about logistics for the first meeting.

Stakes are high in the revamp of the 23-year-old deal that has created a $1.1 trillion trading zone among the three nations since it was implemented in the 1990s. 

Congressional lawmakers, business groups and labor unions have been calling for updates of the agreement and, in some cases, wholesale rewrites of the NAFTA deal.

On Monday, USTR released its list of negotiating objectives for NAFTA, which got mixed reviews on and off Capitol Hill.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Wednesday that the “NAFTA objectives don’t inspire confidence that the Trump administration’s actions will meet its rhetoric on trade.”

“If the administration is serious about renegotiating NAFTA in a way that raises wages and creates good jobs, it cannot continue to promise significant trade policy changes on the one hand and produce vague, unambitious objectives in its official communications on the other.”

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Finance to hold hearing on ObamaCare repeal bill MORE of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, on Monday called the administration's negotiating objectives "hopelessly vague" in how the changes would benefit the United States on issues such as intellectual property, investment, currency manipulation and government procurement.

Wyden added that many of the goals are "watered down versions" of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) proposals. Canada and Mexico were part of the 12-nation TPP, which President Trump removed the U.S. from shortly after taking office. 

Congressional Republicans were generally pleased with NAFTA talking points but reiterated the need to maintain the benefits of the original deal and continue to build out the negotiating priorities as discussions move forward.

Simon Lester, a trade expert with the CATO Institute, wrote Monday in a blog post that many of the Trump administration's NAFTA objectives look familiar and the "new NAFTA may look very similar to the old TPP, although there could be some tweaks here and there."

The Trump administration said a main focus of those priorities is to reduce trade deficits among the nations. 

Trade experts have said that the Trump administration is too preoccupied with imbalances. 

The newer issues reflect Trump's skeptical approach to trade that include eliminating the Chapter 19 dispute settlement mechanism, a move applauded by U.S. Lumber, which is in a long-standing dispute with Canada over the lumber trade. 

"The Chapter 19 system is unconstitutional, unworkable in practice, and for decades has seriously undermined the enforcement of U.S. law against unfair trade practices by Canada and Mexico, to the detriment of U.S. industries and workers,” said U.S. Lumber Coalition spokesperson Zoltan van Heyningen in a Tuesday email. 

"Eliminating Chapter 19 will result in a clearer understanding of and confidence in the likely outcome of trade remedy proceedings, and it becomes easier for all stakeholders to reach a negotiated outcome without first exhausting one another, and their governments, in unnecessarily contentious and lengthy legal disputes."