(Adds details on trade deficits, U.S. aircraft dumping probe)
By David Lawder
WASHINGTON May 18 The Trump administration on
Thursday set the clock ticking toward a mid-August start of
renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement with
Canada and Mexico to try to win better terms for U.S. workers
With a letter to U.S. lawmakers, U.S. Trade Representative
Robert Lighthizer said he triggered a 90-day consultation period
with Congress, industries and the American public that would
allow talks over one of the world's biggest trading blocs to
begin by Aug. 16.
Renegotiation of NAFTA was a key campaign promise of U.S.
President Donald Trump, who frequently called the 23-year-old
trade pact a "disaster" that has drained U.S. factories and
well-paid manufacturing jobs to Mexico.
Trump has pledged to use the NAFTA talks to shrink goods
trade deficits that stood at $63 billion with Mexico and $11
billion with Canada last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau
Lighthizer told reporters NAFTA has been successful for U.S.
agriculture, investment services and the energy sector, but not
for manufacturing. He added that he hopes to complete
negotiations by the end of 2017.
"As a starting point for negotiations, we should build on
what has worked in NAFTA and change and improve what has not,"
Lighthizer said in a conference call with reporters. "If
renegotiations result in a fairer deal for American workers
there is value in making the transition to a modernized NAFTA as
seamless as possible."
In his letter to congressional leaders, Lighthizer said
NAFTA needs modernization for provisions on digital trade,
intellectual property rights, labor and environmental standards,
regulatory practices, rules for state-owned enterprises and food
The Obama administration attempted to address many of these
deficiencies in the 2015 Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal,
which included Canada and Mexico, but Trump pulled out of TPP in
one of his first official acts as president.
Canada and Mexico both welcomed the U.S. move to launch a
Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, speaking at a news
conference with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington,
said the trade pact needed updating after nearly 25 years.
"The world has changed, we've learned a lot and we can make
it better," he said.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said Canada was
"steadfastly committed to free trade in the North American
region," noting that 9 million U.S. jobs depend on trade and
investment with Canada.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce president Thomas Donohue urged U.S.
officials to "do no harm" to businesses that depend on trade
with Canada and Mexico and to move quickly on a new trilateral
As the administration took its first formal step toward
NAFTA renegotiations, the U.S. Commerce Department launched an
investigation on Thursday into Boeing Co's anti-dumping
claims against Canadian rival Bombardier's new CSeries
jetliners, drawing a threat from Canada to review a deal to buy
Boeing fighter jets.
Lighthizer's letter (here%20Notification.pdf)
is less detailed than a draft sent to lawmakers in March, which
listed as objectives tax equality and the ability to reimpose
tariffs if Mexican and Canadian imports pose a serious injury
threat to U.S. industry.
Trump late in April had considered a full withdrawal from
NAFTA, but was persuaded by senior officials in his
administration to pursue negotiations instead.
Lighthizer said he did not think a new threat to withdraw from
NAFTA would be necessary.
"As the president has said, we are going to give
renegotiation a good strong shot," Lighthizer told reporters,
adding that he believed Canada and Mexico would negotiate in
He said he hoped to maintain the current trilateral format
of NAFTA, but noted that many of NAFTA's problems are bilateral
issues that need to be worked out with either Mexico or Canada.
"Our hope is that we can end up with the structure similar
to what we have now. If that should prove to be impossible, then
we'll move in a different direction."
Asked if the NAFTA talks would seek to resolve trade
disputes over imports of Canadian softwood lumber or Mexican
sugar, Lighthizer said he hoped those issues would be settled
before the NAFTA talks begin under separate negotiations being
conducted by the U.S. Commerce Department.
A Canadian source close to the lumber negotiations said it
was unlikely an agreement could be reached by mid-August,
Lighthizer said he will seek public comment on the NAFTA
process and intends to publish negotiating objectives on or
about July 16.
(Reporting by David Lawder and Yeganeh Torbati in Washington
and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; editing by Paul Simao and Tom