U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was interviewed a week ago by CNBC over the timing of the renegotiations with Canada and Mexico for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA.)
Ross says that on the U.S. side about the only hurdle to take notice of from the Trump administration is that up until now Democrats in the Senate have stalled over the hand-picked potential U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, whom they don’t trust even if Trump praises him to the hilt, like everyone else in his cabinet.
Once Lighthizer is approved, he would have to file a notice of intent to restart NAFTA renegotiations and the Senate has 90 days to light up the green lights for the wheeling and dealing to begin.
President Trump does not understand why they have to wait 90 days when they could start the moment Lighthizer is ready to head the U.S. negotiating team, but in the end he has to abide by the status quo of the slow-poke U.S. Congress. “That’s not fast-track,” Trump said. But it is procedure.
But it will be only after that 90-day period that the Trump administration will inform Congress of the specific issues that will be on the renegotiations table, as well as the trade representative team and the negotiating calendar. The trade team will have to be at hand with Senate committees to answer questions that might arise from the proposal.
A tough cookie for the White House will be presenting a convincing analysis of the economic impact the renegotiations will have on the U.S. economy with emphasis on different regions and affectations.
But Trump himself has pussy footed around getting NAFTA renegotiations started; since January he’s been threatening to sign an executive order declaring the United States out of NAFTA, an intention that caused uproar in at least 16 states, as they’d be badly hurt with a sudden cut of the treaty. Particularly Texas and Arizona would be badly mangled given their intensive commerce with Mexico, which has grown exponentially under NAFTA.
Even Thursday a week ago, the rumor ran in Washington that Trump was ready to sign the “we’re out of NAFTA” executive order, but he later tweeted that he’d gotten calls from President Enrique Peña Nieto — a fine gentleman, he says — and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to renegotiate instead of bluntly pulling out. That same eve, the whimsical U.S. president announced that the United States would stay to renegotiate under the aegis that if NAFTA is not beneficial for the United States, he will pull out.
That’s where things stand at right now.
But that was not all that Secretary Ross told CNBC, besides echoing Trump’s repeated complaint that Mexico is stealing jobs from the U.S. work force and that “Mexico’s trade deficit with China is approximately equal to their trade surplus to us. It’s not an accident.”
Beyond the macho hombre rhetoric of the Trump administration, Ross showed political sensitivity mentioning that 2018, being a presidential election year in Mexico, the initiation of renegotiations is urgent to avoid delays after Nov. 30, 2018, the last day in office for President Peña Nieto.
With all indications that the presidency next year might be awarded by voters to left wing candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), given the fact that the rest of the political parties, including Peña Nieto’s own Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), are in disarray and potential candidates have not appeared the way AMLO has, all current polls point at him as the next president of Mexico.
Would AMLO strike down NAFTA renegotiations?
Recently, Mexico Economy Secretary and future NAFTA negotiating team leader Ildefonso Guajardo has made a point in saying that renegotiations must be carried out to a full agreement to the three nations “fast and expedite” during 2017.
In a direct answer to Secretary Ross’s doubt about it, Guajardo said that “if renegotiations do not happen during this [Peña Nieto’s] administration, nobody can assure President Trump that in December 2018 the new Mexican government will back it up.”