U.S. trade groups laud NAFTA replacement effort, but want three-way deal

U.S. business groups are encouraged by progress on a replacement for the North America Free Trade Agreement but have concerns about provisions such as weakening protections for investors and don’t want to see separate deals with Mexico and Canada.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable and National Retail Federation were among the groups calling for the United States to reach a deal with both countries rather than separate pacts, as President Donald Trump has suggested.

“We appreciate the hard work officials are putting into negotiating a modernized NAFTA,” the chamber, the largest U.S. business lobby, said in a statement. “In order to do no harm to the 14 million U.S. jobs that depend on trade with Canada and Mexico, the agreement must remain trilateral.”

Trump announced in a hastily arranged Oval Office event Monday that the U.S. is signing a new trade accord with Mexico to replace NAFTA, and he called on Canada to join the deal soon or risk being left out. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is in charge of NAFTA, is due in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday for talks.

The Business Roundtable raised concerns about proposals to require a sunset provision, weaken investment protections and limit access to dispute settlement procedures.

“In modernizing NAFTA, the touchstone of success is whether changes improve—rather than weaken—NAFTA for U.S. workers and businesses,” the group said in a statement. “Business Roundtable has concerns that today’s announcement might signal not an improvement, but rather a step backward.”

The United States Council for International Business also said it is “troubled” by indications that certain investor protections have been removed or reserved for specific sectors.

“More broadly, we hope that an agreement on NAFTA signals a redirection of U.S. trade policy—away from confrontation and toward cooperative efforts to open markets abroad,” the group said in a statement.

National Association of Manufacturers CEO Jay Timmons said Monday’s announcement is “a step in the right direction,” especially provisions such as new content requirements and stronger intellectual property protections. But all three countries need to be part of the deal, he said.

“Because of the massive amount of movement of goods between the three countries and the integration of operations which make manufacturing in our country more competitive, it is imperative that a trilateral agreement be inked,” Timmons said in a statement.

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