December 11, 2017

Congress Ramps Up Pressure Over NAFTA Process

Congress is ramping up pressure on the Trump administration over the so far uneventful NAFTA negotiations.  As the fifth round of trade talks wrap up in Mexico City this week, there have been no reported breakthroughs and stalemates seem to abound.  Agricultural policy has been a major point of contention, even to the point that U.S Commerce Secretary Ross called out the industry and its push to “do no harm” as a major cause of the delays.  The lack of any progress has forced participants to push back their Dec 31st deadline, saying no agreement is now expected before at least March of 2018.

The delays haven’t helped the political climate.  In fact, revamping NAFTA was never a popular move on Capitol Hill and now it seems as though Congress is losing patience.  A bipartisan group of senators, including several heavy hitters on the Ag Committee and all four senators from North and South Dakota, have sent a letter to Secretary Ross.  In the letter, the senators underscore the vital role agriculture plays in the U.S. and say they find it essential that Congress’s voice be heard in the process.  Further, they say they “find it imperative that before any changes are made to NAFTA, or any other free trade agreement, that economic analysis the illustrates the impact on the full supply chain of the  industries involved be shared.  As such, we request an economic analysis that examines and evaluates the impacts to crop and livestock sectors as a result of any change to NAFTA”

That letter, importantly, was also signed by Senator John Cornyn of Texas.  Cornyn is the chair of the Senate Finance subcommittee on trade and also serves as majority whip.  His home state of Texas is also expected to be one of the hardest hit economically if a talks do fall apart.  After recent NAFTA testimony in front of his subcommittee, the Senator seemed resolved in his support, saying “the administration needs to keep Congress in mind and know that lawmakers will need to approve any renegotiated NAFTA”.

Its that approval that may be strengthening Canada in the negotiations, according to experts.  Sources from that country have said that negotiators there may hold out, forcing the Trump administration to attempt to leave NAFTA and ultimately into a stalemate with Congress where nothing happens.  That resolve may be echoed in Cornyn’s other statement: “Failure is not an option”.