Although Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross prefers bilateral deals with Mexico and Canada, senate participants have disclosed that things are leaning towards trilateral negotiations.
Several members of the Senate Finance Committee have disclosed that the Trump administration aims at keeping the North American Free Trade Agreement as a trilateral deal as it moves to revamp the twenty three year old pact.
They went on to add, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and new U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has confided to them in a closed door meeting that they would prefer the current three-nation format but left open the possibility of parallel bilateral agreements with Canada and Mexico.
“Their preference is trilateral,” said Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow.
Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa echoed the same view but appended it further saying the trilateral deal was most likely the way ahead, “unless there’s problems” with that approach.
“If trilaterally you aren’t getting anyplace, I suppose then you do it bilaterally,” said Grassley.
Ross however declined to comment on the administration’s preference for a trilateral deal. Incidentally, it was he who had floated the idea of doing two bilateral trade deals with Canada and Mexico.
“Right now it is a trilateral deal and we shall see what comes in the future but the important thing is to get to the substance,” said Ross and added that the talks would most likely be “long and complicated.”
The meetings are a precursor to the Trump Administration’s desire to trigger the NAFTA negotiating process with a 90-day consultation period.
Senators from farming states have warned both Lighthizer and Ross to not take any step that would go against agricultural exports to Canada and Mexico.
“We made it pretty clear that’s a priority, that we don’t want to see ag hurt,” said Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican.
“NAFTA by and large has been good for agriculture, and we’re seeing some disruptions in the ag marketplace today because of uncertainty about where this is headed.”
Finance Committee’s top Democrat, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, stated Ross and Lighthizer have assured him that they would push to drop NAFTA’s dispute-resolution mechanism.
Trump has complained that the mechanism is biased against the United States.