U.S. hopes to launch NAFTA talks in just over 90 days: Ross

Fri Mar 10, 2017 6:17pm EST
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By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Friday that he hopes to launch formal talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico in a little over three months, setting in motion a campaign promise made by President Donald Trump.

During his election campaign, Trump threatened to pull out of NAFTA, which he views as damaging to U.S. workers, unless it was renegotiated to his liking and reduced the U.S. trade deficit with Mexico.

Ross told reporters that "sometime in the next couple of weeks" he hopes to send a letter notifying Congress that the Trump administration intends to launch NAFTA negotiations in 90 days.

"That's what triggers the beginnings of the formal process itself," Ross said at a news conference with Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo.

A notification about NAFTA in the next two weeks would put the likely start of talks late June or early July.

Trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico has nearly quadrupled in goods since NAFTA took effect in 1994 to $1.1 trillion last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The deal has accelerated the integration of the three economies, with parts supply chains and commodities now crisscrossing their borders.

The 90-day period is required under the so-called "fast track" negotiating authority granted to the president by Congress. Fast-track allows only an up-or-down vote on trade deals, in order to streamline their approval and strengthen the U.S. negotiating hand with partner countries.

Congress granted fast-track to former President Barack Obama in 2015 when his administration was negotiating the now-defunct 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Unless rescinded by lawmakers, the fast-track authority is scheduled to remain in effect until July 2021.   Continued...

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross holds a news conference at the Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C., U.S. March 10, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Thayer