The retail industry isn’t wavering in its support of the North American Free Trade Agreement and it’s pushing the Trump Administration to let the trade program be.
In a Tuesday joint letter to the new U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who was sworn in on Monday, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, the National Retail Federation, the American Apparel & Footwear Association and the U.S. Fashion Industry Association laid out their “strong support” of NAFTA, which allows duty-free trade between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
After rumblings that President Trump was looking to trade as his next policy focus and considering pulling the U.S. out of NAFTA entirely, as he did with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the White House has switched to “renegotiation” mode, but the industry is still wary as to what exactly will come of any changes.
The associations admitted NAFTA could benefit from an update since it was drafted more than 23 years ago, including areas like customs enforcement and e-commerce, but said any renegotiation of the deal should “do no harm to the successful supply chains we rely on today,” according to the letter.
“Any improvements should provide for a seamless integration with the existing NAFTA agreement,” the groups added.
Hun Quach, RILA’s vice president for international trade reiterated that stance Wednesday, adding “Our priority is to make sure the administration understands what retail’s interests are in any NAFTA renegotiations.”
As for what prompted the letter, the swearing in of Lighthizer is seen by sources as an accelerant to talks around NAFTA, promised changes to which were part of President Trump’s campaign.
Lighthizer, joined by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, also met with Senate leaders on Tuesday to discuss their trade agenda and other trade talks have included mention of the TPP, leaving open the possibility for elements of that long-negotiated deal to be revived in a new NAFTA agreement.
The TPP was a hallmark of the Obama Administration that at its core cut tariffs between 12 countries bordering the Pacific Ocean in an effort to strengthen economic ties and increase trade. Trump called the TPP a “disaster” during his campaign and said the deal would further hurt manufacturing in the U.S.
A notification to Congress regarding formal NAFTA renegotiation talks could come around Memorial Day and the administration has purportedly expressed a desire to complete any revisions to the deal by the end of the year.
The administration is also planning to complete tax reform by the end of the year, though no detailed proposal has been made public.
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