Lobbyists are preparing for the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a sweeping trade pact of critical importance to the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Officials from the three nations are set to take the lead at the negotiating table. However, business leaders are already working to build consensus around possible changes to the agreement. Some 175 companies and groups in the U.S. listed lobbying federal officials on NAFTA from June 2016 through the beginning of this year. Nearly a dozen other entities have recently hired Washington lobbyists, including states, provinces and business groups in Mexico and Canada, The Hill reports.
President Donald Trump has called NAFTA “the worst trade deal ever,” and he threatened to ditch the deal before finally agreeing to renegotiate after talking to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
“I don’t think a [Hillary] Clinton administration would have prompted Canadian provinces to hire a lobbyist,” said one lobbyist working on NAFTA negotiations who asked for anonymity to speak freely.
Government negotiators for Canada and Mexico have reacted to Trump’s criticism of NAFTA, but say working with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has given them hope about moving forward.
“Trump’s personal style is an important challenge to any negotiation,” said Luis de la Calle, a consultant who was part of Mexico’s original NAFTA negotiating team. “There’s a difference between today and 25 years ago. That negotiation was complicated, but all three governments had the same objective.”
Canada’s federal government has not hired any U.S. firms so far. Mexico employs a few D.C. firms working on trade, including Public Strategies Washington, though diplomats are leading the charge on the talks.
Several lobbyists are coming from individual regions that would be affected by changes to the deal. Namely, the state of Sinaloa, which is the largest agricultural producer in Mexico, has hired Mercury, which has former Mexican government official Luis Rosendo Gutiérrez Romano as its managing director, to lobby on its behalf. New Brunswick, a Canadian province, hired the law firm that boasts the former U.S. ambassador to Canada. That company, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, already represents the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. Additionally, Ontario — which trades with more than two dozen U.S. states and is home to Canada’s capital of Ottawa — recently hired the lobbying firm West Front Strategies.
U.S. business leaders and officials in Mexico and Canada insist that negotiations, which aren’t expected to start until at least August, must not result in going back to the high tariffs and other trade barriers that were in place before NAFTA. Experts in Mexico are drawing a hard line.
“Neither tariffs nor quotas of any kind will be negotiated,” de la Calle said.
The White House notified Congress on May 18 that it plans to renegotiate the 23-year-old trade deal, kicking off a 90-day countdown clock before official talks can begin.