United States President Donald J. Trump speaks before signing a memorandum on addressing China's laws, policies, practices, and actions related to intellectual property, innovation, and technology at The White House in Washington, DC,. Pictured from left to right is US Representative Darrell Issa (Republican of California), US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and Us Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.Trump Remarks at Signing of Memorandum on China Trade, Washington DC, USA - 14 Aug 2017

The National Retail Federation is still in favor of keeping the North American Free Trade Agreement vilified by the Trump Administration fully intact, but it’s looking more open to an “updated” deal.

Jonathan Gould, the NRF’s vice president of supply chain and customs policy, said the lobbying group and its members are “still very supportive” of NAFTA, which allows duty-free trade among the U.S., Mexico and Canada, but that the deal could stand to be “examined and updated.”

“Since the agreement was negotiated over two decades ago, it does not reflect today’s global value chain of many new ways of doing business in the global economy,” Gould said. “A number of its provisions affecting ‘old’ ways of doing business need to be updated and modernized to reflect today’s business environment as well as what may come in the future.”

Gould went on to reiterate the NRF’s stance that “a withdrawal from NAFTA should not be a consideration at all.”

Since taking office, President Donald Trump seems to have eased up on his campaign promise of withdrawing the U.S. from NAFTA, and his new trade representative Robert Lighthizer has instead been negotiating with Canada and Mexico on some possible new terms.

It’s unclear what exactly may be on the table, but fashion and retail groups in all three countries have been vocal about the need to keep as is tariff preference levels, which allow “key” raw materials for apparel to be sourced and exported at preferential customs rates.  

Another round of talks led by assistant trade representative John Melle and representatives of Mexico and Canada is set to take place over the weekend. Melle has been working in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative since 1988.

The NRF’s strong endorsement of the NAFTA comes the same day that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, a former banker best known for buying bankrupt companies and selling them at a profit, penned an op-ed in the Washington Post alleging the trade deal is “killing” U.S. jobs.

While Ross’ article focused on the automobile industry and related parts manufacturing, he argued that the amount of U.S. parts in “manufactured goods in general” imported from Mexico and Canada has dropped “significantly,” citing a new study by the U.S. Department of Commerce, which he heads.

“The data is available only until 2011, but there is no reason to think that the situation has improved since then,” Ross wrote.

He argued that a major component of the renegotiations will look to “fix” a provisions covering rules of origin for goods, which he claims currently only demand that certain elements of manufactured goods come from NAFTA countries. This has led to an increasing number of components to come from outside countries, Ross wrote.

Without revised rules of origin, Ross added that the current “trade imbalance” will remain, and that this area of trade is “just the beginning” of change under Trump.

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