The Trump administration is seeking to accelerate the pace of negotiations over a revised North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Cassandra Kuball, senior director, trade and industry affairs, Corn Refiners Association, told members of the North American Millers’ Association attending their annual spring conference in Naples, Florida, U.S., on March 26. Kuball said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has proposed to his Canadian and Mexican counterparts that they announce an agreement in principle by March 31 and ensure a legal scrub of the new agreement is completed by May 1.
The May 1 deadline to have a finished agreement was based on a number of considerations. First, May 1 is the date when the current Mexican and Canadian exemptions from the steel and aluminum tariffs announced by President Trump earlier in this month expire. That date also assumed importance as the administration wants to have the current Congress vote on the agreement, and Congress may move slowly. Lighthizer also understood Mexico’s negotiators may have less latitude in the talks with the approach of that country’s presidential elections scheduled for July 1, and provincial elections in Canada may stiffen resolve to oppose U.S. demands that Canada lower barriers to U.S. poultry and dairy products.
The deadlines proposed by Lighthizer may be difficult to meet, Kuball said. While considerable progress has been made during seven rounds of negotiations, formidable obstacles remain, including the Trump administration’s insistence that there be a sunset clause specifying that if a party feels aggrieved over how the agreement is being implemented, it may withdraw from the accord after five years.
Kuball said it was urgent that food and agriculture sectors remain engaged in the renegotiation process and assert the importance of the United States remaining in the agreement.