The debate over how to update the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has shifted into high gear. The Trump administration just released its objectives for modernizing the 23-year-old trade deal. And negotiators recently held three days of public hearings with more than 140 stakeholders from across the economy, during which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce shared its recommendations for updating the agreement.
As the leading voice for business in Washington and around the world, the Chamber has been at the center of the debate from the beginning—and for a simple reason. Some 14 million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Canada and Mexico, and $1.3 trillion in trade crosses our borders annually. The livelihoods of many of our nation’s farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, service providers, and small businesses are directly or indirectly tied to NAFTA.
So the Chamber has fought hard to ensure that negotiators do no harm, preserving market access and rules that work well. We’ve pushed our leaders to follow the process set out in the 2015 Trade Promotion Authority law, which has the buy-in of Congress and the support of the business and agriculture communities. And to limit uncertainty and minimize political and economic harm, we’ve urged the administration to move quickly.
We are pleased that our calls have been largely heeded so far. Through its negotiating objectives, the administration has signaled it will pursue strong, enforceable standards that will enable an improved NAFTA to serve as a model for future trade agreements. We will also press negotiators to focus on areas like digital commerce, intellectual property, agriculture, energy, customs, investment, procurement, rules of origin, state-owned enterprises, express delivery services, and regulatory and technical barriers to trade.
However, on one of the administration’s top objectives—cutting the U.S. trade deficit—we offer a word of caution. The U.S. trade balance—whether overall or with a specific partner—is not a fair measure of who’s “winning” on trade. Suggesting that imports are somehow a problem to be solved or that services trade is less important than goods trade would be a mistake. Attempting to chart a course for trade policy on such a basis is likely to lead to the wrong priorities.
If we keep the focus where it belongs, NAFTA can be modernized in a way that will preserve millions of U.S. jobs and expand the agreement’s benefits for new parts of America’s 21st century economy. This goal is eminently achievable, and the Chamber looks forward to helping make it a reality.