U.S. Chamber of Commerce chief expects basic NAFTA deal by mid-2018

Mon Apr 24, 2017 6:46am EDT
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By Dave Graham

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The United States, Mexico and Canada are likely to reach a basic accord over reworking the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) by the middle of next year, the head of the biggest U.S. business lobby group said on Sunday.

The future of the deal binding the three nations has been in doubt since Donald Trump won the U.S. presidency in November pledging to ditch it if he could not rework terms in favor of the United States, clouding the outlook for Mexico in particular.

However, Thomas Donohue, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said that he believed business leaders and policymakers were increasingly aware of the need to get a new deal and move on without disrupting business.

"We're not going to be fooling around with this deal in 2018," he said in an interview with Reuters on a visit to Mexico City where he will meet policymakers and make the case for free trade.

Trump contends that Mexico's growth as a manufacturing power since NAFTA took effect in 1994 has cost jobs in the United States. However, defenders of the deal say it has benefited all three nations and helped American firms compete globally.

The U.S. government has yet to send a letter telling Congress that it intends to launch NAFTA negotiations in 90 days - the notification period required under the fast-track process - so the potential start of talks is now drifting into August.

Donohue said that step should follow in the next few weeks, adding neither Trump nor U.S. firms had an interest in dragging out the NAFTA talks because of the economic damage it would do.

"(Trump) is looking at how to get things done," he added. "And I can tell you that he wants to speed this thing up."   Continued...

Tom Donohue, President of U.S. chamber of Commerce, gestures during an interview with Reuters in Mexico City, Mexico April 23, 2017.  REUTERS/Carlos Jasso