On Thursday, May 18, Robert Lighthizer, the new U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), officially announced the administration's intent to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signaling the start of the required 90-day period of formal consultations with Congress before negotiations can begin, in accordance with the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 (also known as TPA). Following last week's announcement, today USTR published a notice in the Federal Register requesting public input in order to inform the development of U.S. positions and objectives when negotiating the modernization of NAFTA with Canada and Mexico. As stated in the May 18 announcement, the administration's emphasis will be on updating NAFTA, which entered into force in 1994, in areas such as digital economy, customs rules and procedures, sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS), and regulatory practices, while strongly emphasizing effective implementation and enforcement. Because the administration will be developing its positions on specific topics – including what chapters and issues it will seek to negotiate (i.e., include, modify, complement, or withdraw) – over the summer, the Request for Comment provides stakeholders from throughout North America with an important opportunity to shape those positions and flag issues of priority and concern.

The request for comment seeks input from interested persons on any matters relevant to the renegotiation of NAFTA, in particular:

  • General and product-specific negotiating objectives;
  • Costs and benefits to U.S. producers and consumers that would result from removing/reducing tariffs or non-tariff barriers on Mexican and Canadian products;
  • Treatment of specific goods, including export or import barriers, tariffs, and other measures;
  • Customs and trade facilitation issues;
  • Modifications of the rules of origin or origin procedures;
  • Barriers to trade in services;
  • Barriers caused by unnecessary standards-related, sanitary, and phytosanitary measures;
  • Digital trade issues (which includes data flows, privacy, and cybersecurity);
  • Intellectual property issues;
  • Issues in investment, government procurement, state-owned enterprises, and competition;
  • Issues related to labor and environment;
  • Trade remedy issues; and
  • Relevant issues to small and medium-sized businesses.

Written comments and requests to testify at a public hearing must be submitted to USTR by June 12, 2017. The public hearing, which will be held at the U.S. International Trade Commission's headquarters in Washington, DC, will convene on June 27, 2017 at 9:00 am.

For NAFTA and other North American trade issues – in particular those related to regulatory affairs (standards, technical regulations, conformity assessment procedures, and SPS, as well as regulatory cooperation, coherence, and alignment) and customs rules and procedures – Venable is working closely with Juan Antonio Dorantes, former Director General of International Trade Rules at the Secretariat of Economy and a Mexican trade negotiator for over 20 years, now a partner at the Firm Aguilar y Loera, S.C. in Mexico City; and Bob Carberry, former Canadian Privy Council official and co-chair of the Canada-U.S. Regulatory Cooperation Council.

Our North American team, led by former senior trade and regulatory officials from Canada, Mexico, and the United States, is in a unique position to develop strategies for clients, including developing comments and statements for public hearings and stakeholder sessions; drafting negotiating text; building cross-border stakeholder coalitions; and providing client representation and advocacy before the Canadian, Mexican, and U.S. governments and other relevant stakeholders, such as industry groups and civil society organizations.