The ball is now rolling on U.S. President Donald Trump’s much publicized plan to renegotiate an “America First” North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), following an official notification to Congress from U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer.
In an interview with The Economist last week, Trump said he had been ready to withdraw from the agreement completely before receiving calls from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto asking for negotiation.
“We have a problem because we have a ridiculous provision in NAFTA that we have, you know, to go on the fast track. Fast track is the slowest track I’ve ever seen,” Trump was quoted as saying.
He also told the publication “big” was not a good enough word to describe the extent of renegotiation planned, opting for “massive” instead.
After months of criticism over trade deficits under the NAFTA arrangement, today the USTR emphasized it sought to support higher-paying jobs in the United States and grow the economy by improving U.S. opportunities to trade with Canada and Mexico.
In the letter to Congress, Ambassador Lighthizer expressed the Administration’s commitment to concluding the negotiations with timely and substantive results for U.S. consumers, businesses, farmers, ranchers, and workers.
He said these goals would be pursued consistent with U.S. priorities and the negotiating objectives established by Congress in the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 (TPA).
He added negotiations would begin no earlier than August 16, 2017.
“Today, President Trump fulfilled one of his key promises to the American people. For years, politicians have called for the renegotiation of this agreement, but President Trump is the first to follow through with that promise,” he said.
“USTR will now continue consultations with Congress and American stakeholders to create an agreement that advances the interests of America’s workers, farmers, ranchers, and businesses.”
USTR will publish a notice in the Federal Register requesting public input on the direction, focus, and content of the North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations.
In response, Produce Marketing Association (PMA) VP of industry relations Kathy Means highlighted the industry relied on global trade to provide consumers in all three NAFTA countries with an abundant supply of fresh fruits and vegetables year-round.
“Free and fair trade is essential to keep that pipeline open and supplied. PMA and the industry will continue to follow this issue as the United States opens conversations about updates to this long-standing agreement,” Means said.
United Fresh’s senior vice president of public policy Robert Guenther said his organization looked forward to working with the Administration, Congress, produce industry colleagues and partners in Mexico and Canada to examine effective ways to modernize NAFTA.
“The fruit and vegetable industry is highly dependent on international trade, both exports from the United States and imports from critical trading partners such as Mexico and Canada,” Guenther said.
“It is clear that today’s consumers demand 24-7 availability of produce commodities regardless of geographic growing seasons.”
He said there was a “strong interdependence” of the fruit and vegetable sector across all three countries.
“Trade across the NAFTA countries serves both consumers and deeply connected supply chains, providing significant jobs not only in agriculture but in processing and distribution,” he said.
“The past 25 years of NAFTA has seen important growth in the fruit and vegetable industry to meet consumer demand.
“However, there are certainly specific challenges within fresh produce that NAFTA modernization can aggressively address, so we are pleased that this opportunity has been realized by the Administration.”
He said United Fresh had been in constant dialogue with Congress, the Administration and other interested stakeholders since January to convey that “the fruit and vegetable industry needs trade agreements that facilitate trade, rather than erecting barriers that protect specific interests”.
“This includes pursuit of trade agreements that eliminate unfair, discriminatory and non-science-based regulatory barriers that disadvantage the industry both here in North America and throughout the globe. United Fresh will work to ensure that changes to NAFTA reflect those principles,” he said.
National Restaurant Association senior vice president Steve Danon responded to the news in a statement given to Fresh Fruit Portal.
“The restaurant industry relies on free and fair trade policies to provide fresh meals to our guests,” Danon said.
“As the Administration and Congress reexamine our nation’s trade deals, we urge them to work with industry partners to understand the impacts trade barriers or increased tariffs will have on restaurants, consumers, and our economy.”
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