Com­merce sec­re­tary says NAFTA talks not im­mi­nent

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSINESS - By An­drew Mayeda Bloomberg News

The U.S. govern­ment prob­a­bly won’t be­gin “real” ne­go­ti­a­tions to re­vamp the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment un­til later this year, Com­merce Sec­re­tary Wil­bur Ross said.

“I would like the re­sults to­mor­row, but that is not the way the world works,” Ross said Wed­nes­day in an in­ter­view with Bloomberg Tele­vi­sion.

Ross said it prob­a­bly will be “the lat­ter part of this year be­fore real ne­go­ti­a­tions get un­der way.”

Ross, who was sworn in last month as Com­merce sec­re­tary, said he hopes the talks don’t take “sub­stan­tially longer than a year.”

The sec­re­tary’s com­ments come as U.S. part­ners in the agree­ment brace for ne­go­ti­a­tions that could grow con­tentious and even re­sult in an end to one of the world’s largest free-trade zones.

Canada has called for talks to be­gin soon amid con­cerns that un­cer­tainty over the out­come will stymie in­vest­ments, while Mex­ico’s govern­ment has al­ready started dis­cussing the deal with busi­nesses that de­pend heav­ily on NAFTA.

The Mex­i­can peso has de­pre­ci­ated 6 per­cent since Don­ald Trump won the pres­i­dency as in­vestors bet his pledge to nar­row the U.S. trade deficit with its south­ern neigh­bor will hurt the econ­omy.

The Cana­dian dol­lar has weak­ened 0.9 per­cent since the U.S. elec­tion.

Ross said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is hav­ing “pre­lim­i­nary” dis­cus­sions with U.S. law­mak­ers about NAFTA, but hasn’t given Congress of­fi­cial no­tice that it will start ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Un­der the law that hands the pres­i­dent so-called fast­track au­thor­ity on trade pacts, Trump must give Congress 90-days’ no­tice that he in­tends to re­vise an ex­ist­ing agree­ment.

Be­fore start­ing talks, he must lay out the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s goals and con­sult with key com­mit­tees in the House and Se­nate.

Any of the three NAFTA par­tic­i­pants can with­draw from the deal on six-months’ no­tice. Trump has said he would pull out if his coun­ter­parts aren’t will­ing to rene­go­ti­ate a deal.

While Trump has given few de­tails about ex­actly what he’s seek­ing from a NAFTA re-think, it could im­pact U.S. com­pa­nies with pro­duc­tion in Mex­ico in­clud­ing Ford Mo­tor Co. and Whirlpool Corp. Trump has promised to rene­go­ti­ate trade deals to pro­tect Amer­i­can work­ers, putting “Amer­ica First” in re­la­tions with other coun­tries.

Ross said Wed­nes­day the U.S. has been in a “trade war” for decades, with­out re­fer­ring to a spe­cific coun­try. “The dif­fer­ence is our troops are now com­ing to the ram­parts,” he said in the in­ter­view.

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