President of U.S. Chamber of Commerce: 'withdrawing from NAFTA would be devastating'

by Jay Sjerven
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Thomas Donohue, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Thomas Donohue says U.S. Chamber of Commerce will have 'a seat at the table' in trade talks.

WASHINGTON — Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, addressing the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa on Feb. 6, said “Withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreement would be devastating for the workers, businesses and economies of our countries.” Mr. Donohue spoke with Canadian business leaders as the Trump administration pressed for talks with Canada and Mexico on the 23-year-old trade agreement.

Mr. Donohue told the Canadian business executives, “Under NAFTA, Canada and Mexico are the top two U.S. export markets in the world. The jobs of 14 million Americans depend on the agreement. Now, should we consider taking steps to modernize the rules of our trading relationship? Prime Minister Trudeau and Mexican President Pena-Nieto have said they are open to doing so. Remember, things like e-commerce and the digital economy didn’t even exist when NAFTA was negotiated more than two decades ago. To address areas open for modernization or improvement, we would insist on doing it in a way that doesn’t disrupt the $1.3 trillion worth of trade that depends on NAFTA.”

Turning to the notion that NAFTA could be pushed aside in favor of bilateral agreements, Mr. Donohue said, “That approach might preserve market access, but introducing divergent rules would only raise costs. The last thing North American manufacturers, service providers and farmers need is different sets of rules for trade with the United States, Canada and Mexico. That could destroy jobs and hobble our industries. That’s why it’s critical to maintain a single agreement.”

Mr. Donohue said as the debate unfolds, “the U.S. Chamber will have a seat at the table, and we’ll use it to fight for our shared priorities — and we’re going to ask our friends to our north and south to do the same.”

That there will be talks between the NAFTA partners seemed to be a given. President Donald J. Trump, speaking with congressional leaders on Feb. 2, indicated he wanted to expedite negotiations. Mr. Trump said he had very serious concerns about the agreement, repeating his claim that it has been a catastrophe for the United States.

“I want to change it,” Mr. Trump said. “And maybe we redo it, maybe we do a new NAFTA, we put an extra ‘F’ in the term NAFTA. You know what the ‘F’ is for, right? Free and fair trade. Because it’s very unfair.”

Also on Feb. 2, Mexico’s foreign and economic ministries said the Mexican government will initiate formal consultations with the Mexican private sector and other stakeholders to “set up the parameters that will guide the revision and strengthening” of NAFTA at the negotiating table. The ministries said they expected the consultations with business leaders to take around 90 days.

“This consultation in Mexico begins simultaneously with the similar process that the U.S. government will carry out internally for its own purposes,” the ministries said. “This consultation process is absolutely necessary to achieve a modernization of NAFTA that serves the national interest, as it is being done in the case of the agreement between Mexico and the European Union, a negotiation that will also take place in 2017.” 
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