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US Commerce Secretary Says NAFTA Talks to Launch Soon


US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross holds a news conference at the Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C., March 10, 2017.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross holds a news conference at the Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C., March 10, 2017.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says he hopes to launch formal talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada in a little more than three months.

Ross spoke with reporters in Washington Friday, saying he hopes to notify Congress in the next couple of weeks that the 90-day countdown to talks has begun. He spoke in a joint news conference with Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo.

Ross is obligated to formally notify Congress of his plans to renegotiate the deal; the letter he sends to Congress officially starts the process. If he carries through on his promise, talks would likely begin in early July.

Ross said any revision of NAFTA would either be two bilateral agreements with Mexico and Canada or one deal among all three countries.

At Friday’s news conference, Guajardo voiced his support for a trilateral deal, resembling the trade agreement now in place. Rather than separate U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada discussions, he said all three nations should negotiate together.

“NAFTA is a trilateral agreement, and it would make a lot of sense to have trilateral discussions,” he said. He also noted that Mexico will be ready to start negotiations by the end of May.

In Houston, Texas, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters he is open to working with the Trump administration to revise NAFTA.

President Donald Trump has said he plans to renegotiate NAFTA because, he says, the United States has lost more than one-fourth of its manufacturing jobs to Mexico. But the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service reported in 2015 that NAFTA caused only a modest effect on job losses.

Ball State University in Indiana reported that trade deals like NAFTA were responsible for about 10 percent of factory job losses since the 1970s, while automation was responsible for 88 percent of factory job losses over the same period.

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