Welcome to Weise Wednesday! Twice a month we will share a brief Q&A with the former U.S. Commissioner of Customs, Mr. George Weise. If you have questions, we encourage you to send them to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Q: Have there been further developments on the President’s initiative to renegotiate NAFTA and the confirmation of Robert Lighthizer as the new U.S. Trade Representative (USTR)?

A: As discussed in my last blogpost, President Trump had decided on renegotiation, rather than termination, of NAFTA. Also, Robert Lighthizer’s nomination to become USTR had been favorably reported by the Senate Finance Committee but not yet approved by the Senate.  Since then, there have been developments on both fronts.

On May 11, the Senate voted to confirm Mr. Lighthizer as USTR, and he was sworn in on May 15.  In this role, he will be the lead negotiator for the United States on all global trade agreements, including NAFTA. 

Ambassador Lighthizer is a very experienced trade negotiator and lawyer.  He served as Deputy USTR under President Reagan and was involved in the negotiation of many trade agreements.  More recently, he was a partner in a law firm representing U.S. clients to tackle unfair trade practices and to open foreign markets to U.S. exports.  He has a reputation as a very tough negotiator.

Shortly after being sworn in as USTR, Ambassador Lighthizer sent a letter to the Congress on May 18, formally triggering the 90-day consultation period required by law before the renegotiation of NAFTA can begin.  During this 90-day period, discussions will take place between USTR and the committees of Congress with jurisdiction over trade issues (primarily the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee) to establish U.S. priorities and objectives for the renegotiation.

In his letter, Ambassador Lighthizer stated that the goal of the talks was to improve U.S. opportunities by modernizing parts of the agreement that were “outdated.”  He cited areas such as intellectual property rights, state-owned enterprises, and customs procedure as issues that needed to be addressed in the negotiations. He also vowed to remove chapter 19 of NAFTA, which provides for the appointment of a 2-judge panel to review anti-dumping cases when disputes arise between the NAFTA member countries.

Clearly, both Mexico and Canada will be identifying their trade priorities for the upcoming negotiations, as well.  Each party will also be sensitive to the political dynamics in their respective countries.  Reaching an agreement that all parties can sell to their respective constituencies will be a huge challenge and can take a considerable period of time.  Stay tuned for further developments.