US kicks off process to sign NAFTA 2.0

Washington DC capitol hill

August 31, 2018 - The United States kicked off the process to sign a new trade deal on Friday, as the President notified Congress of his intent to sign a new deal with Mexico — "and Canada, if it is willing" — in 90 days, according to a statement by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

The news comes as uncertainty over Canada's role in talks to renegotiate NAFTA surfaced, and days after the U.S. and Mexico announced they had reached a bilateral deal.

Talks with Canada will continue as of Wednesday, Sept. 5, according to the statement. "We have also been negotiating with Canada throughout this year-long process. This week those meetings continued at all levels. The talks were constructive, and we made progress," said Lighthizer.

Nov. 29, 2018, is now the earliest possible date a new NAFTA deal can be signed by the three parties.

In theory, this means Canada, the U.S., and Mexico have until Sunday, Sept. 30 to finalize the details of the deal if they want to pursue a trilateral agreement compliant with the notice of intent sent by the President today.

The legislation that allows the White House to conduct trade negotiations clearly sets out a timeline by which deals can be made, which includes formal review periods so Congress, business and civil society can opine on any deal reached.

The news of official intent marks the start of that process. The next benchmark is 30 days from now when the USTR must publish the full text of any agreement on its website. Sixty days later, the President is allowed to sign the agreement.

However, signing an agreement does not mean it is enacted in U.S. law. 

Congress must first receive the full text of the agreement, on a day in which both houses are in session, before voting to ratify it. If the U.S. were to sign on to a NAFTA 2.0 on Nov. 29, 2018, the full text could be presented to Congress and made public that same day.

The rush to submit a proposal was, reportedly, so that the three sitting heads of state could sign a new deal and begin their respective countries' ratification process. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will cede power to President-Elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Dec. 1, 2018. 

Yet even if the timeline goes as planned, the Trade Promotion Authority binds the United States to a Congressional review process, which would prevent the U.S. from ratifying any deal for another 120 days, at minimum.

Source: Supply Chain Dive