NAFTA Talks Will Need to Hit the Gas

So after a year of bombastic threats from the President of the United States, Donald Trump, it looks like the time has finally come for genuine negotiations on NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement). It’s going to be quite a show as all sides (Canada, Mexico, and the United States) jockey for position in the opening round of negotiations. Of course, all three countries should try and work together on a deal that can benefit all parties, but given the inflated tensions between the United States and Mexico, it’s not going to be easy. These agreements usually take a ton of time to get set up and then get down to the business of actually going through the old documents and getting them ready for review.

There are a few other wrinkles that might further delay NAFTA talks, particularly the Mexican national election scheduled for next July. Trying to pass any legislation after that may stall if the new President of Mexico takes office with a different agenda. Most observers say that the talks need to come to a close by the end of February 2018, or there’s a chance that everything could be put on hold until later in 2019.

There is some optimism among negotiators, even if only a little, as most of the players were involved in the comprehensive talks leading up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) during the Obama Administration. While the TPP was gutted when Trump took office, all sides got a better sense of their colleague’s economic priorities during the previous negotiations, and this could make the NAFTA talks move at a more decent pace.

Leading the charge for the United States will be John Melle, who is a 30-year-veteran at the US Trade Representative’s office; the Canadians are led by Steve Verheul, who led the Canadian trade negotiations with the European Union and will be supported by a nonpartisan advisory council that includes automotive executives; and the Mexican contingent will be overseen by Kenneth Smith, who runs the Mexican Embassy’s NAFTA section in Washington under the Ministry of Economy. While there are anxious parties on all sides, many believe that without interference – if Trump can avoid insulting the any of the other countries again – they may actually be able to make some serious progress in improving the trade deal. The first session of talks is slated for August 16th in Washington.