On August 20, trade officials from the United States, Mexico, and Canada concluded the first round of negotiations to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In a joint statement released following five days of talks, trade officials reiterated their commitment to updating the deal, continuing domestic consultations, and working on draft text. They also pledged their commitment to a comprehensive and accelerated negotiation process to set 21st Century standards and to benefit the citizens of North America.
Their agenda covered a wide range of existing and new NAFTA chapters, including: updating the Rules of Origin, adding and amending trade remedies provisions, addressing transparency, combatting corruption, increasing intellectual property protections, and addressing issues facing financial services and investment. The U.S. reportedly tabled roughly 10 proposals updating existing chapters or proposing new ones. Officials expect the modernized NAFTA deal will include a total of 30 chapters (the current agreement is comprised of 22 chapters and seven annexes).
The NAFTA negotiating teams are being led by Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for the Western Hemisphere John Melle, veteran Canadian trade expert Steve Verheul, and Director of the Embassy of Mexico’s Trade and NAFTA Office Kenneth Smith Ramos. In addition to negotiators, a number of Canadian and Mexican stakeholders – including eight members of the Mexican Senate and 150 representatives of Mexico’s private sector – were present on the margins of the talks. However, U.S. negotiators have acknowledged that their accelerated schedule leaves little time for formal business stakeholders to be included in events like those organized during the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks.
Negotiators are expected to head to Mexico City for the second round of talks from September 1 to 5, and to Canada for their third round in late September (reportedly September 23-27). Negotiators will continue at this rapid pace, moving back to United States in October and planning additional rounds through the end of the year. The NAFTA parties hope to finish talks by the end of 2017 or early 2018, ahead of Mexico’s July 2018 presidential elections.