Sunday, July 21, 2019

US hails start of NAFTA renegotiation process as historic

Washington, Aug 16 (EFE).- The United States’s trade representative on Wednesday hailed the North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiation process as historic, saying the US, Mexico and Canada all agreed on the need to modernize the accord.

Robert Lighthizer made his remarks in a press conference at the start of the inaugural round of talks, which will run through Sunday in Washington.

Lighthizer, who was accompanied by Mexican Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, said NAFTA had “fundamentally failed many, many Americans and needs major improvement.”

US President Donald Trump has slammed NAFTA, which took effect in 1994, as detrimental to American interests and pledged to withdraw the US from the deal unless it can be revised.

Trump says the agreement has led to massive US job losses, provided incentives for companies to relocate their operations to Mexico in search of cheaper labor and caused the US’s trade deficit with its southern neighbor to soar.

In his remarks, Lighthizer said a reduction in the trade gap with Mexico was one of the US government’s priorities in the NAFTA renegotiations.

Guajardo, for his part, said the deal had been successful but could still be further improved, adding that the three parties were looking to renew their North American alliance.

“The process we begin today is not about going back to the past; it is looking into the future. The issue is not tearing apart what has worked, but rather how we can make it work better,” he said.

Guajardo also quoted Lighthizer’s remarks before the House of Representatives’ Committee on Ways and Means a couple of months ago, when he said the US negotiators’ goals in the renegotiation process were to have more trade not less and to do no harm.

“For a deal to be successful, it has to work for all parties involved; otherwise it’s not a deal. Mexico is committed to obtaining a win-win-win for all three countries,” the economy secretary said.

For her part, Freeland said that Canada did not use trade surpluses or deficits as a primary yardstick for determining NAFTA’s success or failure.

She said Ottawa’s objective in the negotiations was to achieve a more progressive deal by overhauling NAFTA’s investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, incorporating strong labor safeguards and integrating enhanced environmental provisions.