No Canada? No NAFTA 2.0

A revised NAFTA agreement that does not include Canada is unacceptable and is not eligible for expedited consideration under the current Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) law.

On May 18, 2017, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer notified Congress of the Administration’s intent “to initiate negotiations with Canada and Mexico regarding modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).” This notification was required in order for negotiations to comply with the TPA law, which allows trade agreements to be considered by Congress in an expedited fashion and subjected to an up-or-down vote.

It is significant that the Administration initially notified Congress of its intent to negotiate an agreement with Canada and Mexico, not Canada and/or Mexico.

After Amb. Lighthizer completed an agreement with Mexico, President Trump reiterated his Administration’s initial commitment to Congress: “On May 18, 2017, my Administration notified the Congress that I intended to initiate trade negotiations with Canada and Mexico.” (emphasis added)

His letter continued: “I hereby notify the House of Representatives and the Senate that I intend to enter into a trade agreement with Mexico — and with Canada if it is willing.”

Since then, Amb. Lighthizer has failed to secure Canada’s participation in a modernized NAFTA.

Because the agreement Amb. Lighthizer negotiated does not meet the criteria specified in the Administration’s original notification to Congress of its intent to negotiate an agreement with both Canada and Mexico, the new agreement with Mexico does not qualify to be considered under expedited TPA procedures.

As Senate Finance Committee member Pat Toomey (R-PA) observed: “To use Trade Promotion Authority’s ‘fast-track’ procedures, the administration must also reach an agreement with Canada. Conversion into a bilateral agreement would not qualify for TPA’s ‘fast track’ procedures and would therefore require 60 votes in the Senate.”

Similarly, WIlliam Reinsch and Jack Caporal at the Center for Strategic and International Studies concluded: “Dividing NAFTA into two separate deals could require the administration to restart the lengthy TPA process for the two separate negotiations with Canada and Mexico or forgo it and risk changes to the deals by Congress that Canada and Mexico might not accept.”

There should be no debate about that the definition of “and” as used in the phrase “negotiations with Canada and Mexico.” The U.S.-Mexico trade agreement does not meet the guidelines required for trade agreements to be considered under expedited TPA procedures.