NAFTA Negotiations Move Ahead After Public Hearings

A checkpoint at the US-Mexico border in California. [Arthur Greenberg /]
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President Trump’s trade office is preparing to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA was signed by the US, Mexico and Canada in 1992 and this is the first time it’s been revisited since it took effect. The possibility for major revisions could affect at least one major Ohio industry.

137 speakers signed up to appear at a recent three-day public hearing in Washington. An online commenting site received 12,000 submissions.

The public hearing by the US Trade Representative, who will lead the negotiations, included mostly speakers from trade groups representing U.S, businesses. And Paul Ryan, of the Association of Global Automakers, said for them NAFTA has mostly been a success.

“First, the US auto industry actually produces more than a million vehicles more today than it did in 1993. And second, all US automakers now export twice as many vehicles than we did before the NAFTA rules went into effect," said Ryan.

Ryan didn’t say whether those increased exports were to NAFTA countries. Automakers called for a few adjustments, like the inclusion of U.S. safety standards in the agreement as a way to head off European and Japanese manufacturers. And, in an indication of trade-offs that are likely to happen, steelmakers want requirements that U.S. steel is used in car making. The car makers say they already try to use local steel but it’s not always possible.

Thea Lee of the AFL-CIO offered the critique of one of NAFTA’s best-known byproducts: the laid-off factory worker.

“Trade deals are by design disruptive – both creating and destroying jobs and generating winners and losers. In our view, too much emphasis has been given to the relatively small, theoretical net gains from trade deals and too little to the proportionally larger disruptions," said Lee.

She called for continent-wide labor and environmental standards that would protect higher-paying jobs in the U.S. 

The next stage in the negotiation process will come later this month, when negotiation goals are released. Talks can begin in mid-August. 

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