On September 30, 2018, the United States, Canada, and Mexico agreed to a US$1.2 trillion trade pact—the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement or “USMCA.” The new agreement, which would replace the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (“NAFTA”), is expected to be signed by US President Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in late November before President Nieto leaves office. The agreement must then receive majority approval of both houses of the US Congress before it will become effective. Given the trade promotion authority's notification requirements, that means Congress would not vote on the deal until 2019. Until then, NAFTA remains in place.
Since it became effective on January 1, 1994, NAFTA has provided for qualified citizens of each of the three parties to be employed in the other two countries in one of some 63 professions listed in Appendix 1603.D.1 to NAFTA Chapter 16. With a few exceptions, each of the professions listed—e.g., Architect, Engineer, Economist—requires a baccalaureate degree as an entry-level requirement, and experience cannot be substituted for that degree. A professional may be admitted for up to three years with no limit on the number of extensions that may be approved. In spite of efforts by Canadian negotiators to add some professions that did not exist when NAFTA became effective and concerns that US negotiators would try to pare down the list in keeping with the Trump administration’s “Buy American/Hire American” mantra, Chapter 16 of the USMCA is virtually identical to NAFTA Chapter 16. (The visa designation “TN,” which is an abbreviation for Trade NAFTA, however, will likely be changed by regulation following congressional approval of the deal.)
Other key details from the USMCA deal include greater access for US dairy farmers to the Canadian market and increased auto manufacturing in North America at higher wages, a provision expected to shift labor from Mexico. Canada and Mexico will also obtain greater trade protections by facing tariffs only for exports exceeding 2.6 million vehicles to the United States. The USMCA additionally contains stringent protections for patents and trademarks, improves labor rights, and leaves NAFTA’s controversial Chapter 19 dispute resolution provision unchanged.