Last week, the Washington International Trade Association launched a new series of discussions about the North American Free Trade Agreement to examine some of the more contentious issues that will likely face the governments of the United States, Canada and Mexico as they work together to “modernize” the 25 year-old trade pact.
Canadian Ambassador David MacNaughton and Mexican Ambassador Gerónimo Gutiérrez discussed critical issues for the negotiations including dispute settlement procedures, the interests of organized labour, and what the American business and agriculture communities hope to achieve in an updated agreement.
Ambassador Gutiérrez expressed “concern that the overarching objective would be on simply deficit reduction,” and said he would “urge everybody to be cautious” about focusing too narrowly on the bilateral merchandise trade imbalance, adding: “We do have to be careful to try to make our best judgment about what is causing the problems and what are the appropriate tools to address those problems.”
From the Canadian perspective, the Trump administration’s aim to revamp NAFTA’s dispute settlement mechanisms by eliminating its impartial Chapter 19 dispute settlement process was on the forefront of the agenda. Acknowledging there are “of course” ways to improve the current provisions, Ambassador McNaughton argued that maintaining some formal means of resolving disputes within in the agreement “just makes an awful lot of sense.”