Carving its own NAFTA path

Mexico expects revision negotiations to focus on rules of origin

By: Eric Kulisch
Photo: Diego Grandi/Shutterstock
   Mexico is opening a 90-day comment period with the private sector as a required precursor for making revisions to the North American Free Trade Agreement, according to a joint statement published online Wednesday by the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Economy.
   The comments will help set the parameters for Mexico’s negotiating position.
   President Donald Trump has long declared his unhappiness with the 23-year-old trade deal, saying Mexico has benefitted most from the arrangement by making it easier for U.S. manufacturers to relocate south of the border and that he intends to renegotiate terms of the deal or pull out if Mexico and Canada object.
   Mexican and Canadian officials have responded that they also are interested in improving NAFTA, but are expected to present their own set of demands. Industry representatives and experts say NAFTA is ripe for modernization so it can better address technology, e-commerce and other issues that were not present a quarter century ago.
   “The consultation process is indispensable to achieve a modernization of the NAFTA that serves the national interest,” the Mexican government statement said.
   In an interview on Mexican radio, Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said that preliminary discussions with Trump administration officials suggest that NAFTA talks will focus on reviewing its rules of origin to ensure products include more content from North America, especially in the auto sector, Reuters reported.
   Guajardo also said it made sense to include labor and environmental rules in a renegotiated NAFTA.
   Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto canceled a planned visit to Washington last week after Trump signed an executive order to begin the process of building a physical wall on the border. Trump also publicly stated Mexico would pay for the construction, possibly via a 20 percent tariff slapped on Mexican imports.
   In public appearances and on Twitter, Trump took a belligerent tone with Mexico, saying the country has taken advantage of the United States on trade and immigration issues.
   Peña Nieto had to pull out of the meetings to save face with his own populace, but there also was no upside to visiting because Mexico wanted to talk about a range of issues on the bilateral agenda, not just the issues Trump put on the table. Many of Trump’s cabinet picks, as well as assistant secretaries who manage day-to-day relations with Mexico across various agencies and departments, are not in place yet, Arturo Sarukhan, a former Mexican ambassador to the United States, said Wednesday in an interview on MSNBC.
   Other governments are watching the dynamic between the United States and one of its closest partners, and wondering, “if this is going on with Mexico, imagine what will happen to other nations that don’t have the skin in the game these two nations have with one another,” he said.