The Trump administration has written to Congress, officially triggering the 90-day consultation period required before renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico can begin, according to U.S. media reports.
Robert Lighthizer, who was finally confirmed Monday as the United States trade representative, wrote to Congressional leaders in both the House of Representatives and the Senate to officially give notice that President Donald Trump intends to initiate negotiations “regarding modernization” of NAFTA.
The letter says the Americans intend to initiate talks “as soon as practicable,” but no earlier than 90 days from this notice, as required by current U.S. trade law. That means the earliest Canada’s negotiators could be sitting down with their counterparts to discuss their opening positions would be Aug. 16.
The letter did not, however, offer details about what the scope of these negotiations would include.
A copy of the letter obtained by U.S. media cites the need to update chapters that “do not reflect modern standards,” and mentions digital trade as being only in its infancy when NAFTA was negotiated in the early nineties.
It mentions the need for new provisions to “address intellectual property rights, regulatory practices, state-owned enterprises, services, customs procedures, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, labour, environment and small and medium enterprises.”
Lighthizer’s department is not required to publish its specific negotiating objectives until 30 days before the start of talks, meaning precise details about what the U.S. wants to update or add in a reworking of the agreement may not be confirmed until July.
Before issuing Thursday’s letter, Lighthizer held two days of meetings with congressional committees this week, as also required by U.S. trade rules.