Interested parties wanting to shape negotiations starting this summer on the proposed free trade agreement between the United States and the European Union - known as the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) - and to have a final say on sweeping modifications to the rules of origin in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) face deadlines in the coming weeks for public comment.
President Barack Obama announced the TTIP talks in his State of the Union address this year and in late March formally notified Congress of the planned negotiations. The TTIP would increase the United States' access to markets in the EU, its largest trading partner. The TTIP talks would focus on eliminating all import duties on bilateral trade, with a substantial elimination of tariffs when the TTIP enters into force and a phasing out of all but the most sensitive tariffs within a short time frame. The negotiations would also address longstanding disputes between the United States and EU concerning the harmonization of regulations and restrictions in the agricultural sector.
Earlier this month, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) asked for comment on 17 topics involving the TTIP, including negotiating objectives; economic costs and benefits; product-specific import or export interests or barriers; export priorities and import sensitivities; labor, intellectual property protection and environmental issues; government procurement; and other existing barriers. The deadline for filing comments with the USTR is May 10; a public hearing will be held May 29 and 30. Parties wanting to testify at the hearing must submit such requests by May 10.
Modifications to NAFTA Rules of Origin
NAFTA member countries Canada, Mexico and the United States recently completed negotiations that would significantly modify the country of origin rules - the "tariff shift" rules - for a broad range of products. These rules determine the changes a product must undergo to qualify for preferential tariff treatment as a product of a NAFTA member country. As part of the process, the USTR has asked the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) to investigate the potential economic impact of these proposed modifications. The ITC is seeking public comments on these changes, which are due by June 4. With no public hearing scheduled, no other channel for comment will be available before the ITC finalizes its findings for transmission to the USTR by November 12.
These opportunities to comment allow interested industries and companies to voice their concerns and influence the outcome of important trade policy initiatives. With these deadlines fast approaching, interested parties should decide what role, if any, they want to play.